Helping Your Life Work
November 1, 2009
Volume 5, Issue 11

'Walk, Run, Listen, Learn'

In 2005, school officials in Napierville, Illinois developed an experimental Learning Readiness Physical Education program to determine whether physical exercise would improve the literacy skills of a group of struggling grade 12 students. Before coming to class every morning, students worked their way through a 30-minute series of aerobic exercises. Teachers found that the students were better able to focus their attention, sit still, listen and learn. At the end of the semester, students showed substantial gains in their ability to read.

Two years later, after hearing about the success of the program, a special education teacher in Saskatoon persuaded her school board to allow her to conduct her own experiment (Movement Matters). Her eighth grade class of special education students was hampered by learning, attention and behavioural problems. Many of them had emotionally checked out of a school system that had failed to educate them and she wanted to find a way to bring them back in.

After installing 8 treadmills and 5 stationary bikes, and incorporating them into the curriculum (20 minutes of exercise before each class), some incredible results ensued. Within a matter of months, students with attention problems no longer needed their prescribed Ritalin, attendance improved, academic performances escalated, behaviour problems decreased and self-esteem blossomed.

Those of us in the helping professions have long recognized the link between the mind and body. We have observed how our thoughts can influence our behaviours, moods and physical reactions. We have seen how a healthy body can improve emotional wellness. And with experiments such as those described above, we have evidence that physical fitness can improve our attention, concentration, and cognitive abilities.

And yet, despite knowing this, many of us routinely get too little sleep, eat or drink too much, get too little exercise and wonder why we feel so stressed. We find ourselves working overtime to make up for all the time spent feeling stuck, unmotivated and unproductive. We have raised a population of youngsters attached at the wrist to computers, video games and iPods. Many of these young people are in the midst of exams right now, and without the benefits of regular exercise, may be feeling overwhelmed, anxious or depressed.

As the days get colder, darker and for many of us, more depressing, I hope we will take more opportunities to play in the snow, go for walks, ski, snowboard and enjoy the winter. I hope that we will recognize our need for balance and fun and exercise and pleasure. As we have seen, twenty minutes of movement can make a big difference.

Barbara Fish, M.Ed.
Personal and Career Counsellor
416 498-1352
“Helping Your Life Work”

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