Fit Body, Fit Mind
By Monica Van Aken, Ed. D, Head of School
At a time when many schools are eliminating recess and even physical education, MMS has made even more of a commitment to providing movement for our students. Not only do 90% of our Upper Elementary and Junior High students participate in after-school team sports, Lower Elementary students attend two, 45-minute athletics classes every week, and Upper Elementary and Junior High students attend two 80-minute athletics classes every week. Of course, recess time is sacred, and we all consider it a critical part of our students’ achievement and success. We believe that a strong body equals a strong mind.
Although researchers aren't exactly certain how exercise leads to better cognitive function, it has proven benefits. "Memory retention and learning functions are all about brain cells actually changing, growing, and working better together," says John J. Ratey, Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and the author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, and “exercise creates the best environment for that process to occur." For starters, exercise pumps blood throughout the body and brain, and more blood means more oxygen and better-nourished brain tissue. Exercise also spurs the brain to produce a protein called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, or BDNF, which Ratey calls, "Miracle-Gro for the brain." This powerful protein encourages brain cells to grow, interconnect, and communicate in new ways.
Recently researchers have begun to study the impact of exercise on children’s brains. The frontal lobe of the brain, crucial to cognitive control, grows throughout the school years, says Charles Hillman, Associate Professor of Kinesiology and Neuroscience at the University of Illinois, and "exercise can help ramp up the development of a child's brain.” In a 2007 study published in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, Hillman put 259 Illinois 3rd and 5th graders through physical education routines such as push-ups and a timed run and measured their body masses. He then checked these against the students’ standardized math and reading scores. Dr. Hillman found a correlation: “the more physical tests they passed, the better they scored on the achievement tests.” Also, the more exercise, the more pay offs in academic achievement. Students who exercised after school for more than 40 minutes showed greater academic improvement than kids who exercised for just 20 minutes. These effects were present regardless of gender or socioeconomic differences.
Here at MMS, we are committed to providing our students the opportunity to maintain this joyful connection between rigorous exercise and rigorous intellectual work.