Thinking Caps and Running Laps: Exploring the Importance of Physical Activity and Cognitive Development
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This research looks at peer-reviewed articles related to the impact physical activity has on cognitive development. I attended a conference where I heard from experts about the positive impact physical activity has on the brain. Many elementary and secondary schools are cutting physical education courses in exchange for bolstered core curriculum classes as a result of budgetary constraints or pressure to improve academic standings. By synthesizing the data from multiple studies which analyzed the affect of physical activity on cognition, my goal was to find commonalities in the duration and type of exercises researchers used. The hope was to identify the most effective exercises which could then be adapted for classrooms. I found that most articles did not specify the type of physical activity performed, and there was no consensus as to the optimal activity. Benefits start with five minutes of physical activity, with optimal cognitive benefits after 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity. I then surveyed two dozen teachers for their opinions about physical activity, cognitive development, and the feasibility of implementing physical activity in their classrooms. Most of those surveyed were aware of the relationship, but cited implementation difficulties due to constraints of time and physical classroom size. Twenty of those surveyed stated willingness to implement a brief non-disruptive activity. My conclusion is that students can gain cognitive benefits from brief physical activities such as stretching or breathing exercises while in the classroom. A program should be developed giving educators training for use in the classroom.