Physical Education and the Brain

Computers, video games and and television have replaced physical activity at home leaving school as one of the few places a child will be encouraged to be active. Unfortunately, as school districts struggle to meet budget needs, physical education programs are often the first to go, an easy choice but not the best decision. At the same time, recesses are being removed from the school day in an attempt to increase scholastic opportunities. Current brain science has stated that the brain’s cerebellum plays an active role in long-term memory, attention, impulse control, spatial perception and the cognitive function of brain’s frontal lobe. With this evidence, it is important to balance the school day with physical activity on the playground, in the gym and in the classroom.

Physical activity enhances the function of the brain and improves learning, yet some schools restrict both physical education classes and recess periods. Some schools have actually eliminated recess periods. A look at research shows that physical activity increases the amount of oxygen in the brain that directly affects significantly enhanced the cognitive performance in young adults.

The knowledge that physical movement enhances educational capabilities should encourage schools to get students moving, regardless of the grade level. Movement in the classroom while actively engaged in the materials they are learning will help students make connections and learn. Kinesthetic movement in the classroom during a lesson, as well as before a test, will enable students to do their best. The material is also more likely to make it to long-term recall.

To balance the day, students should be able to move regularly during every class period. High-energy activities at the beginning of class allow students to refresh themselves. Standing in place and exercising, tossing a beach ball for reviews or locate information around the room are methods that can be used to get students moving in a constructive manner.

The physical education program should be a part of every student’s schedule every day because improving brain function is not the only reason to keep students active.  Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the last thirty years. Type two diabetes, with an increase of 33% of new cases in the last decade, is now considered a new epidemic. Past-times have changed from outdoor games to sedentary activities like video games and computer time. To turn the tide in obesity and diabetes, schools must keep students active throughout their day. P.E., intramural and regular sports, dance, and kinesthetic classroom activities need to be employed throughout the day to keep kids moving.

School districts need to keep a balance between academics, physical activity and mental breaks. Better brain function, better health and learning to create balance in their lives will be the benefits every child receives.