“Exercise cues up the building blocks of learning, and social interaction cements them in place. The stimulus of social interaction starts your neurons firing like nothing else – it’s complicated, challenging, rewarding, and fun. When you combine this sort of mental activity with the priming effect of exercise, you’re maximizing the growth potential of your brain.”
- Dr. John J. Ratey, M.D.
Recent research has demonstrated the powerful connection between a sound body and a sound mind. This Mind-Body Connection shows that as we exercise, not only do our muscles grow stronger, but our brains grow stronger as well. In fact, exercise improves our ability to learn, our overall mental health and even helps us better manage stress.
Harvard Medical School
Author of SPARK
In his book “SPARK – The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain”, Dr. John Ratey of Harvard Medical School found that aerobic exercise increases the levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain, and that increased levels of these neurotransmitters positively affects brain activity, attention and learning. Examining the academic success of school systems that have focused their physical education programs on aerobic fitness, Dr. Ratey explains the science behind these academic success stories. He describes exercise as Miracle-Gro™ for the brain. In the end, Ratey states, “My hope is this book will encourage you to grab your gym bag instead of the remote, or spend time on the field rather than the sidelines.”
While exercise helps the brain develop, the right type of exercise in the proper environment hastens the process. Ratey found that when you combine aerobic exercise with  complex movements you maximize the benefits of the exercise. As he states, “the more complex the movements, the more complex the synaptic connections.” Complex motor skills have to be learned and therefore challenge the brain which causes it to develop more quickly.
Other studies have shown that the human brain is affected by social stimuli. Ratey suggests that there is strength in numbers, “The stimulus of social interaction starts your neurons firing like nothing else – it’s complicated, challenging, rewarding, and fun. And when you combine this sort of mental activity with the priming effect of exercise, you’re maximizing the growth potential of your brain. Exercise cues up the building blocks of learning, and social interaction cements them in place.”
A vigorous, ever-changing exercise program, practiced regularly in a group setting will not only create healthier students, but smarter ones as well. If we can create these great habits when students are young and sustain them by making exercise a fun process to be anticipated and not avoided, everybody wins.
Carl Cotman, Director of the Institute for Brain Aging and Dementia at the University of California, Irvine showed a direct biological connection between movement and cognitive function. His work showed that exercise was one of the common factors in sustaining cognitive ability during the aging process. Cotman also found that exercise helped the brain learn more efficiently and improved the rate of learning in his subjects.