A significant amount of research has been completed that shows a high correlation between student wellness and student achievement. In a recent book by Dr. John R. Ratey, M.D., Spark, new research is presented that confirms “exercise stimulates the building blocks of learning within the brain.” He explains that the brain works just as muscles do— growing with use, withering with inactivity— and shows why getting the heart and lungs pumping can mean the difference between a calm, focused mind and a harried, inattentive self. “Exercise cues the brain and affects mood, anxiety and attention,” the author concludes.

Dr. Ratey cites several case studies of how individual student academic performance has been greatly enhanced by stimulating the mind through exercise.

  • Naperville, Illinois: In 1997 Naperville School District in Illinois created a physical education program, PE4Life, which focused on individual student fitness, not sports. Students were given many opportunities to excel in a number of activities in gym class, all of which got the students up and moving in a cooperative, not competitive way. The results were outstanding:
  •  In 1999, Naperville’s eighth graders took an international science and math exam called TIMSS and finished FIRST in the world in science and sixth in math. That same year, U.S. students ranked 18th in science and 19th in math on this test. PE4Life played a significant role in this accomplishment.
  • In 2003, high school freshmen students, who were in remedial reading classes and participated in high intensity workouts for just one semester, saw a 17% improvement in reading comprehension.
  • Urbana-Champaign, Illinois: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign psychophysiologist, Charles Hillman, measured students’ attention, working memory and processing speed and found that EEGs showed more activity in the brains of fit children. On cognitive tests, fit students had better attention and higher test scores than those less fit.
  • Kansas City, Missouri: After expanding physical activity from one class a week to forty-five minutes every day, in only one year an inner-city elementary school in Kansas City reduced its discipline problems and incidences of violence as much as 250%.
  • Titusville, Pennsylvania: This small, low income town installed fitness centers in their secondary schools and added ten minutes to their school day, but shaved 10% off academic class time. Since the program started in 2000, the district’s standardized test scores rose from “below the state average to 17% above it in reading and 18% above in math.” They are closing the achievement gap. And, among the 550 junior high students, there has not been one incident of fighting reported.

Other Research Results

Other positive research was sited in Spark. For example, Carl Cotman nailed down a direct biological connection between movement and cognitive function.

Studies in California schools established that physical activity had a positive influence on memory, concentration and classroom behavior.

Arthur Kramer showed that getting in shape increased the brain volume of older adults. Population studies, which included tens of thousands of people of every age, confirmed that a higher fitness level relates directly to positive mood and lower levels of anxiety and stress.