By Betsy Dru Tecco
My youngest daughter is finishing up 7th grade, her first school year without recess. Her gym class is scheduled twice in a six-day rotation. She takes a bus to school and in foul weather gets driven to the bus stop. Most of her seven-hour school day is spent sitting at a desk. It reminds me a lot of the typical workday for millions of Americans who drive to an office and sit at a desk for most of the time. Our society is largely set up to support sedentary living – unless we take action.
One way we can help children get more exercise is by incorporating movement into the classroom setting. Doing so would not only provide fitness benefits but other benefits as well. In his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, John J. Ratey, MD, an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, describes how brain chemicals released during exercise, including serotonin and dopamine, makes the brain more alert and ready to learn. Dr. Ratey asserts that exercise helps improve everything from the feelings of stress and anxiety to academic achievement.
For several years I visited elementary schools to make a presentation I called Get Up and Go! During the assembly, I sought to educate and motivate children from Kindergarten through fourth grade about the three primary things they need for energy: nutrition, sleep, and exercise. I also had them stand up and do some fun physical activities with me, including exercises that could easily be done in the classroom on a daily basis. Even the teachers stood up and participated in the activities. Together we got our hearts pumping harder, our muscles flexing, and our bodies stretching for greater flexibility. For the stretches at the end I played soft music and included deep breathing exercises to aid in stress relief and a sense of calm. It always seemed to me, as the students filed out of the auditorium to return to their classrooms, that they were more invigorated and relaxed than at the start of my assembly. I hoped the experience would translate into a better school day overall, for everyone.
So if you want to encourage your child’s school to promote physical activity in the classroom, here are some great online resources to get started:
– Betsy Dru Tecco is a freelance writer who has written extensively about health & fitness. Her book, Food for Fuel (Rosen Publishing Group), teaches kids about the connection between food and physical activity. Visit her website at www.betsytecco.com.