Search form

Scientists Say Exercise Is Food for the Brain



Arts & Humanities
--Language Arts
Physical Education
--Team Sports
--Our Bodies
--Life Sciences
Social Studies
--Current Events


Grades 2-up

News Content

New research indicates that exercise can improve students academic performance.

Anticipation Guide

Before reading, ask students to agree or disagree with each of the statements below. This will set a purpose for reading; as they read, they will confirm their assumptions or learn something new.

  • Exercise can make you smarter.
  • Most children get 30 minutes or more of exercise each day.
  • Playing tag and skateboarding are good forms of exercise.
  • Exercise can help make the brain grow.
  • Exercise can help improve students test scores.

    News Words

    Next, introduce these words that appear in the News Word Box on the students printable page: oxygen, nutrients, cells, attention, divide, and concentrate. Discuss the meanings of any of those words that might be unfamiliar. Then ask students to use one of those words to complete each of these sentences:

  • Good soil provides essential _____ to help crops grow. (nutrients)
  • Molly could not _____ on her homework, because her brothers were playing tag in the living room. (concentrate)
  • The air we breathe is 79 percent nitrogen and 21 percent _____. (oxygen)
  • Stan didnt know the answer to the question because he wasnt paying _____. (attention)
  • If you _____ a dozen eggs evenly among four people, each person will get three eggs. (divide)
  • All living things are made up of _____; the human body has 100 trillion of them! (cells)

    Read the News

    You might use a variety of approaches to reading the news:

  • Read aloud the news story to students as they follow along.

  • Students might first read the news story to themselves; then you might call on individual students to read sections of the news aloud for the class.

  • Photocopy the news story onto a transparency and project it onto a screen. (Or use your classroom computer's projector to project the story.) Read the story aloud as a class, or ask students to take turns reading it.

  • Arrange students into small groups. Each student in the group will read a paragraph of the story. As that student reads, others might underline important information or write notes in the margin of the story. After each student finishes reading, others in the group might say something -- a comment, a question, a clarification -- about the text.
  • Click for a printable version of this weeks news story Scientists Say Exercise Is Food for the Brain.

    More Facts to Share

    You might share these additional facts with students after they have read this weeks news story.

  • "Increased physical activity during the school day may increase alertness and reduce boredom, which may lead to increased attention span and concentration," says Dr. Dawn Coe, an assistant professor of exercise science at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. "It is also suggested that increased activity levels might be related to increased self-esteem, which would improve classroom behavior as well as performance." For more information about the affects of exercise on kids performance in school, see an Education World "Wire Side Chat" with Dr. Coe, Vigorous Exercise Can Lead to Academic Gains.
  • Animal studies show that exercise stimulates development of new brain cells in the hippocampus, a key area of brain related to memory and learning. After exercise, scans of animals brains showed increased brain activity. With that information in hand, scientists observed scans of human brains after exercise and saw the same kinds of increased brain function.
  • Exercise increases breathing and heart rate, which increases blood flow to the brain. Animal studies have proved that vigorous exercise can help grow new blood vessels in the brain, even in middle-aged animals.
  • In addition to increased brain activity and academic benefits, scientists say exercise is the only "cure" for Americas obesity epidemic. Over the past two decades, there has been a dramatic increase in childhood obesity, according to the American Obesity Association. About 15.5 percent of adolescents (ages 12 to 19) and 15.3 percent of children (ages 6 to 11) are obese, they say.
  • In addition to the activities mentioned in the News for You article, dancing lessons, Frisbee tossing, soccer drills, Dance Dance Revolution, or playing catch with a football are some other forms of "vigorous exercise."
  • Over the past decade, there has been a move among school districts to cut back on time kids spend in PE class or at recess in order to increase classroom time and improve test scores. Most experts agree those are bad moves. They say, in fact, that schools should be helping to ensure that students get 30 to 60 minutes of vigorous exercise a day.
  • In a study of sixth graders, researchers at Michigan State University and Tarleton State University learned the following:
    --- While students who engaged in physical activity tended to perform better in school, the benefits were seen when students exercised "vigorously." (Moderate physical activity involves some increase in breathing or heart rate -- one example is brisk walking -- while vigorous physical activity involves a large increase in breathing or heart rate and sweating, as in the case of jogging.)
    --- Students who participated in sports attained that level of vigorous exercise; simply participating in physical education classes did not seem to do the trick, the study noted, because PE classes usually resulted in fewer than 20 minutes of vigorous activity.
    --- Students enrolled in physical education classes during the study did not perform better academically than those who spent an extra 55 minutes in the classroom. However, it is important to note that less classroom time did not translate into decreased academic performance either. Those findings verify previous similar research.
  • Walking is good exercise, even if it is not vigorous. Thats why doctors highly recommend walking for their older patients. Walking oxygenates the brain. Maybe thats why some people say, "A good walk clears my head and helps me think better." Because thats just what it does!
  • Studies have shown that senior citizens who walk regularly show significant improvement in memory skills compared to their peers who are more sedentary.
  • Scientists continue to learn more about the brain and exercise. They hope their research might someday help them delay memory loss in people as they grow older.

    Comprehension Check

    Revisit the Anticipation Guide at the top of this lesson; ask students to respond again to the statements in it.

  • Exercise can make you smarter. (true)
  • Most children get 30 minutes or more of exercise each day. (false)
  • Playing tag and skateboarding are good forms of exercise. (true)
  • Exercise can help make the brain grow. (true)
  • Exercise can help improve students test scores. (true)

    Recalling Detail

  • How can exercise help improve brain functioning? (Exercise increases blood flow, which carries oxygen and other nutrients to the brain. Also, exercise helps build new brain cells that can help with functions such as memory and learning.)
  • In what ways can exercise help students learn better? (Exercise can help students release energy, which can help them pay attention, behave better, and feel better about themselves. Accept other reasoned responses.)
  • In a recent study of sixth graders, scientists divided students into three groups. What was the difference between the groups? (They got different levels of exercise.)
  • What are some good forms of active, or vigorous, exercise? (Accept reasonable responses. Some forms mentioned in the article include basketball, soccer, swimming, biking, skateboarding, playing tag, and jumping on a trampoline.)
  • What are some sports that can help improve students concentration? (Accept reasoned responses. Forms mentioned in the article include basketball and tennis.)
  • On average, how much time do kids spend each day doing activities that involve sitting (such as watching TV and playing video games)? (Almost 5 [4.8] hours a day.)

    Think About the News
    Discuss the Think About the News question that appears on the students news page.

    In addition, you might ask students, Why, do you think, are more kids overweight today than they were in the past? Encourage students to think about human history back to prehistoric times and as recent as 100 years ago. Students might conclude that weight problems are caused, at least in part, by the fact we spend more time in sedentary activity than our ancestors did. For our ancestors, exercise was a natural part of life; they probably didnt have to consciously make it a part of their day. For example, early humans got plenty of exercise by hunting for food or raising livestock and growing food. More recently, walking -- which we consider exercise -- was our grandparents form of transportation.

    Follow-Up Activities

    Physical Education. On the first day of May each year since 1989, students all over the world have participated in Project ACES (All Children Exercising Simultaneously). Visit the Project ACES Web site to learn how you and your students can participate. The Web site also includes free classroom education materials and an email newsletter. Another source of good information regarding kids and fitness is The Presidents Challenge.

    Math. Have students create a graph to illustrate the number of calories burned by different forms of exercise. While the number of calories listed below differs due to many factors (including age, weight, gender, and ethnicity), the resulting graph should offer a good visual comparison of the potential benefits of different types of exercise. Most forms of exercise listed below refer to moderate (not vigorous) levels of activity. Students might use the free online Create a Graph tool to create their graphs. They might choose five forms of exercise from the chart to illustrate.

    Watching TV - 75 calories per hour
    House cleaning - 95 calories per hour
    Playing with the dog - 115 calories per hour
    Walking slowly - 130 calories per hour
    Horseback riding - 130 calories per hour
    Bicycling (easy) - 135 calories per hour
    Bowling - 145 calories per hour
    Scrubbing floors - 225 calories per hour
    Weeding a garden - 230 calories per hour
    Walking (slight sweat) - 250 calories per hour
    Playing soccer - 260 calories per hour
    Swimming for pleasure - 260 calories per hour
    Skateboarding - 275 calories per hour
    Mowing lawn (push mower) - 295 calories per hour
    Volleyball - 340 calories per hour
    Karate (no rest breaks) - 345 calories per hour
    Bicycling (12 mph) - 385 calories per hour
    Hiking - 390 calories per hour
    Dancing to rock-and-roll music - 400 calories per hour
    Playing basketball - 460 calories per hour
    Jumping rope - 480 calories per hour
    Tennis (singles) - 510 calories per hour
    Jogging (5 miles per hour) - 600 calories per hour
    Source: Tooele County (Utah) Health Department

    More fitness fun. See Education Worlds Resources, Lessons, and Activities For Physical Education for fun activities, field day themes, Family Fitness Night ideas, and much more.


    Use the Comprehension Check (above) as an assessment. Or have students work on their own (in their journals) or in their small groups to respond to the Think About the News question on the news story page or in the Comprehension Check section.

    Lesson Plan Source

    Education World

    National Standards

    National Standards

    LANGUAGE ARTS: English
    GRADES K - 12
    NL-ENG.K-12.2 Reading for Understanding
    NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills

    MATHEMATICS: Representation
    GRADES Pre-K - 12
    NM-REP.PK-12.1 Create and Use Representations to Organize, Record, and Communicate Mathematical Ideas

    GRADES K - 12
    NPH.K-12.3 Physical Activity
    NPH.K-12.4 Physical Fitness

    GRADES K - 4
    NPH-H.K-4.1 Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
    NPH-H.K-4.4 Health Influences
    GRADES 5 - 8
    NPH-H.5-8.1 Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
    NPH-H.5-8.4 Health Influences
    GRADES 9 - 12
    NPH-H.9-12.1 Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
    NPH-H.9-12.4 Health Influences

    GRADES K - 12
    NT.K-12.1 Basic Operations and Concepts
    NT.K-12.3 Technology Productivity Tools
    NT.K-12.4 Technology Communications Tools

    See recent news stories in Education Worlds News Story of the Week Archive.

    Article by Ellen Delisio and Gary Hopkins
    Education World®
    Copyright © 2007 Education World