From the mouths (or test results) of babes

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“In today’s technology-driven, plasma-screened-in world it’s easy to forget that we are born movers – animals, in fact – because we’ve engineered movement right out of our lives. Ironically, the human capacity to dream and plan and create the very society that shields us from our biological imperative to move is rooted in the areas of the brain that govern movement.”SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, by John J. Ratey, MD.

The evidence is here, folks. Movement can increase the quality of life, which is, as some of you might remember, my definition of fitness. Wanna know who is showing this to us? KIDS! And Dr. Ratey’s book starts by discussing how a shift in thought, a challenge to conventional ‘gym class’ protocol, started a revolution that is not only making children healthier, but is turning their brains into learning machines. It all starts with a simple, but controversial, premise…

Sport is not fitness. Drill this one into your brain. SPORT is not FITNESS. They might be cousins, sometimes of the kissing variety, but regard them as two different parties to attend. At the end of the night, ya might have crashed both of them, and you might have heard of one through the other, but both parties had different DJ’s, games and costumes.


Here’s a statistic that Phil Lawler will be quick to throw at you…

Less than 3 percent of adults over the age of 24 stay in shape by playing team sports! So what kind of fitness bridge are we building into adulthood, thought this Lawler guy, if our children’s PE classes are filled with a bunch of kids standing around waiting for the ball to be throw, hit or dribbled to them?

Who’s this Lawler guy anyway? Phil Lawler, along with his partner-in-crime Paul Zientarski, is partly to blame for bringing up the test scores of entire school districts. Check it out… exercise builds brain cells! Yup, despite what your D.A.R.E. propaganda told you in high school, we can keep our brain a-growing, and bookloads of modern research is pointing towards movement – intense and challenging movement – as what both Ratey and Lawler call Miracle-Gro for the brain.


So does these mean complete dismissal of sports from the curriculum? Oh no. But individual work does make up a great deal of the class (agility games, rock climbing and extra credit for time spent on a rower or aerodine bike for a given distance), and team sports are downsized to smaller teams and more action. But most importantly, the grading process gets a needed slap in the face. Now the new model is based on assessing EFFORT instead of SKILL. A heart rate in the 90% range for an out-of-shape child (or adult) is a greater amount of work than an athlete at 70%. The slower kid might lap the track dead last, or finish a task at a slower pace than the more athletically inclined, but when that child is finished, there is proof that he or she was working at remarkably intense rate, thanks to heartrate monitors.

This model, which had its roots in a Naperville, Illinois school district had initial stunning results. Many are mentioned in SPARK and include increases in national test scores as well as lowered incidences in behavioral problems. When the model was applied to other schools, some groovy things happened as well…

When the national percentage of overweight children was at 30%, the freshman classes in Lawler’s district was 3%.

In Titusville, Pennsylvania, the standardized test scores in reading and math hopped from below average to 17 and 18 percent above average, respectively.

In a piloted Kansas City program, not only did strength levels increase over 400%, but disciplinary incidents and days of suspension dropped by 59% and 67% respectively, with the only change in the school system being the PE4Life program, which is the national model of the Naperville New PE program.


In fact, google your city and PE4Life and see what comes up. If you’re anything like Sacramento… nothing. Well I’m delving into trying to change that. I’ll keep you updated. Meanwhile, spend a minute perusing the PE4Life website.



This weekend

Tav will be leading a basic tumbling workshop at Bodytribe for the Saturday Tune Up. Get playful and learn to move your body again, like you did when you were in GREAT shape… ya know, like a child. This Saturday at 10 am. Here’s the info:

Tumbling: Get Your Roll On! Tumbling is a great skill to develop for total body awareness and general physical preparedness. Bodytribe Trainer Tav Byerhoff will cover the basics of ground rolling, including forward and backward rolls and side rolls, as well as a discussion of how to incorporate them into bodyweight workouts. Any one interested in adding rolls to their workouts or learning to move in new and dynamic ways is encouraged to attend. No previous experience with tumbling is required to participate and benefit from this workshop.


If you’re closer to the Bay Area, I’ll be teaching a Brutal Recess workshop at DIAKADI Body in San Francisco this Sunday at 11.
Here’s the info:

Date: Sunday, November 8th, 2009
Time: 11am – 2pm
Location: DIAKADI Body, 290 Division Street, Suite 200, San Francisco
Cost: $60 per participant

Mobility: it’s not just for warm ups anymore. By taking elements of yoga, martial arts, tumbling, hand balancing, dance and some good ol’ fashioned strength training, we give you the tools to create an artistic workout through intense mobility, with the main piece of equipment being YOU. This workshop brings you and your body into a new relationship, one of movement as evolution to freedom, both of mind and muscle. Begin to understand ‘athletic mobility,’ new levels of movement that don’t just support our pursuit of strength but enhance the journey.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Steven

    Chip, this is getting spooky. Here’s the beginning of the post planned for next week on my blog:

    “Everyone reading this blog is already convinced of the importance of exercise and good nutrition to maintain a strong, healthy body. But what about your brain? And what about those people who think of themselves as beings of pure intellect, unconcerned with their physical bodies? Do they have a logical reason to exercise and eat right?


    I’ll check out SPARK… and the PE4Life stuff, thanks.

  • chip

    Yikes. In truth I’m hacking your files for ideas.

    I’ll be interested to see the full post. Yes, a intellectualized individual who is out of shape still hasn’t reached their pinnacle of growth, since the a brain that is TRULY evolved should understand the body’s role in it’s growth. Actualization for anyone will require that the brain understand the body’s importance, and vice versa.

    SPARK is a fascinating book, written so well that even an idiot like me can understand the biology of the brain much better now.

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