By DR. DENISE GUY
USD 435 Superintendent
Reading a book or even playing computer games might help slow down what teachers sometimes refer to as “summer learning loss” in children—the loss in academic skills and knowledge over the course of summer vacation. But consider this – a summer spent riding bikes, swimming laps, running, walking or playing baseball just might also help impact a child’s learning for the coming school year.
Of course we are all aware of the benefits of physical activity in improving physical fitness and skill development. We know it can help reduce stress, and help fight diseases such as obesity and diabetes. Team sports can even provide structure and discipline that young people need to perform in school effectively, make positive choices in their lives, persevere to see a project through to the end, and earn the respect of their peers.
But in recent years, there have also been numerous studies that seek to link physical activity with children’s intelligence, cognition and academic abilities. John Ratey, M.D., a clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, affirms that exercise has been shown to increase endorphins (body chemicals that help create feelings of happiness and calmness as well as ease stress and pain), dopamine and serotonin (the neurotransmitters that increase attention, working memory, and mood) and neurotrophin BDNF – what he calls “Miracle-Gro” for brain cells.
Summertime provides the perfect opportunity for children to engage in a range of physical activities. And, I encourage parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, even neighbors, to grab a bat and ball or a pair of walking shoes and join the kids. A good workout can leave people of all ages feeling better about life and about themselves. And, who knows, maybe you’ll even notice some cognitive and psychological benefits as well.