By Ken Reed

Dr. John Ratey, a Harvard researcher and author of the groundbreaking book SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, believes our kids need to be exercising a lot more in school than they currently are. He says more physical activity in our nation’s schools is critical, not just for wellness reasons in this era of childhood obesity, but also to grow brain cells and enhance brain function.

Movement is as fundamental to the development of the brain as it is to the body, according to Ratey. A growing stack of research studies strongly indicates that fit kids perform better academically, have fewer behavioral problems, and miss fewer school days due to illness. Open-minded school principals, who are facing increasing pressures to boost standardized test scores, are intrigued by the idea of exercise as a learning readiness tool.

“Exercise is like Miracle-Gro for the brain,” says Ratey. “It grows brain cells.”

However, the unfortunate reality is that too many schools are actually cutting physical education classes — and recess — due to the mistaken belief that more seat time in math, science, and language arts classes is necessary to boost test scores. The reality is that daily quality, fitness-based, physical education is the best thing our country’s educators could do to boost academic performance.

Make no mistake about it, Ratey isn’t talking about old school physical education here. “Learning readiness” PE is much different than traditional “gym” classes that emphasize team sports and games like dodge ball.

Phil Lawler, a pioneer in the fitness-based PE movement, described quality physical education this way:

“It’s about enabling each student to maintain a physically-active lifestyle forever. It means emphasizing fitness and well-being, not athleticism. It eliminates practices that humiliate students. And it assesses students on their progress in reaching personal physical activity and fitness goals. A quality PE program exposes kids to the fun and long-term benefits of movement – it’s really that simple.”

We need more of this type of “New PE” in our schools today. The result would be healthier students, who have fewer behavioral problems, and perform better academically.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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