Information Age Education Blog
Research on How Exercise Improves Brain Functioning
I must admit that I have never been particularly physically fit. As a child I was very active in and thoroughly enjoyed sports, neighborhood games, and so on. But I was also overweight. Now, as a senior citizen, I remain reasonably active, and this includes 30 to 35 minutes on a treadmill four or five days a week.
I recent years I have read a lot of articles and an occasional book about what is being learned about exercise, physical health, and cognitive fitness. The following is a book that I have just started reading on my Kindle:
Medina, John. (2008). Brain rules: 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home, and school. Seattle: Pear Press.
I also listened to an interview of Medina, available at http://podcast.rubyonrails.org/programs/1/episodes/john-medina. In this interview, he mentioned and praised the work of John Ratey, and I agree with this well-deserved praise of Ratey’s book:
Ratey, John (2008). Spark: The revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain. New York: Little Brown. See some of his more recent work at http://www.johnratey.com/newsite/index.html.
In brief summary, we have a lot of solid research evidence that regular exercise not only helps one physically, but also helps one a lot mentally. Medina provides details both on the research and on the underlying theory of why exercise is so helpful to brain functioning. This is one of the 12 principles his book addresses.
I particularly liked the details of studies done on “couch potatoes” of various ages, such as school-age children, young adults, and senior citizens. Regular exercise made a huge improvement in their cognitive skills. Stopping the exercise program led to a relatively quick return to previous cognitive levels.
Medina posits that the evidence is relatively strong that students should be spending a half-hour a day, three days a week, of their school time in physical activities led by a qualified Physical Education teacher. He cites evidence of such activity leading to more efficient learning—more than making up for the school time spent exercising.
Here is a more recent publication:
Erickson, et al. (January 2011). Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 2/14/2011 from http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/01/25/. .abstract
Results are based on a year-long participation of adults in the 55 to 80 age range. Quoting from the abstract:
The hippocampus shrinks in late adulthood, leading to impaired memory and increased risk for dementia. Hippocampal and medial temporal lobe volumes are larger in higher-fit adults, and physical activity training increases hippocampal perfusion, but the extent to which aerobic exercise training can modify hippocampal volume in late adulthood remains unknown. Here we show, in a randomized controlled trial with 120 older adults, that aerobic exercise training increases the size of the anterior hippocampus, leading to improvements in spatial memory. Exercise training increased hippocampal volume by 2%, effectively reversing age-related loss in volume by 1 to 2 years. We also demonstrate that increased hippocampal volume is associated with greater serum levels of BDNF, a mediator of neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus. Hippocampal volume declined in the control group, but higher preintervention fitness partially attenuated the decline, suggesting that fitness protects against volume loss. Caudate nucleus and thalamus volumes were unaffected by the intervention. These theoretically important findings indicate that aerobic exercise training is effective at reversing hippocampal volume loss in late adulthood, which is accompanied by improved memory function. [Bold added for emphasis.]
Spend a bit of time reflecting on what you have just read. How does the information fit in with your current knowledge, beliefs, and activities? How can you make use of the information to help improve our informal and formal educational systems? Who do you know that might benefit from reading this IAE Blog entry?
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What You Can Do
You know that the message sent is not necessarily the message received. You, for example, have “constructed” a personal meaning to my message given above. My overall intent is to provide you with some information and ideas that you will act upon in a manner that leads to improving our informal and formal education system as well as your own mental and physical health.
So, pause for a few seconds and think about the meaning you have constructed from my message and some possible action that you might take based on that meaning. What occurs to you that you, personally, will try out in your quest to improve our education system?
If the information seems relevant to you, will you act on it? If it seems of possible relevance to others you know, will you share it?
As a personal example, I have come to realize that my aging brain needs all the help it can get, so I have become a regular user of my treadmill.
You Can Help
The IAE Blog entries tend to have a relatively long "shelf life." However, over time, the references tend to get out of date. You can help your fellow readers and IAE by adding a Comment that includes an up-to-date reference and its URL. Your Comment should include a couple of sentences summarizing the up-to date-information and ideas.
Suggested Readings from IAE and Other Publications
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Click here to can search the entire collection of IAE Blog entries.
Here are some examples of publications that might interest you.
Brain Science. See http://iae-pedia.org/Brain_Science.
Changing Our Tune on Exercise. See http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/27/changing-our-tune-on-exercise/.
Exploring rewiring of the brain. See http://iae-pedia.org/TED_Talks#Michael_Merzenich:_Exploring_the_Re-wiring_of_the_Brain.
Mind and Body Connection. See http://iae-pedia.org/Mind_and_Body_Connection.
Mind, Brain, and Education. See IAE Newsletter - Issue # 52 October 2010.
Written by Dave Moursund, November 25, 2010.
I am trying to figure out why my posting summarizing a little bit of the research on how regular exercise helps the brain has proven to be such a popular posting. In just one day, it jumped to number four in total hits among all postings to the IAE Blog.
The research Medina interprets tells us:
1. In historical times in Africa, humans survived through traveling (walking, running) many miles a day and by thinking while they were doing so. Our brains evolved to function well with the "pumped up" brain blood supply and blood flow capacity that comes from routine and substantial exercise.
2. Our brains are being mistreated by the lack of exercise that many of us experience due to working in an office or being a student sitting in a classroom or at a study desk.
It occurs to me to conjecture that hyperactivity was a characteristic that helped people to survive back in the hunter-gatherer era. If you have read any research literature that suggests hyperactive children are just doing "what comes naturally" to help their brains, I hope you will share it with others.
Written by Dave Moursund, December 02, 2010.
This comment comes from the article:
Tucker, Jill (12/1/2010). Court: Parents can sue if schools skimp on P.E. San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 12/2/2010 from http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/...1GJMEC.DTL.
Quoting from the article:
Parents can take their children's public schools to court to force educators to provide the minimum amount of physical education required by state law, the California Court of Appeal ruled in Sacramento on Tuesday, which could spell trouble for a lot of state schools.
California's education code requires elementary schools to offer 200 minutes of physical education every 10 days, an amount that rises to 400 minutes in middle or high schools, not including lunch or recess. A small-scale survey of state schools a few years ago found more than half failed to provide the required minutes of physical activity.
Written by Dave Moursund, January 06, 2011.
Clayman, Andrew (01/11/200. Study: Good Health Choices Add 14 Years to Your Life! Retrieved 1/6/2011 from http://www.signatureforum.com/...icleid=20.
Researchers gathered their results over more than a decade, using 20,000 British residents in their study. Participants answered questions about their daily behavior, and had their blood tested for vitamin C levels. When the results were finally unveiled this week, it was found that subjects who ate five daily serving of fruits and vegetables, refrained from smoking, drank moderately, and exercised regularly, would live an average of 14 years longer than subjects who did not meet any of the above parameters.
Written by davem, May 22, 2011.
The following two articles are recommended by Robert Sylwester.
How exercise jogs the brain. May 20, 2011.
Schools taking fitness action. May 19, 2011.
Written by davem, July 06, 2011.
See http://abllab.com/. I enjoyed the 3:20 video from Good Morning America.
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