Brain-based Research Project Takes Flight
Landmark East School has rolled out a brand new exercise program that promises to revolutionize the critical role of cardiovascular exercise in learning. This research project is led by Dr. John J. Ratey clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Dubbed ‘SPARK Fit’ by the school, the program is based on broad-based research that shows a clear link between intense physical activity and the increased ability to learn complex tasks such as math and reading. Ratey believes test scores will actually improve with daily short bouts of strenuous exercise. SPARK Fit also seems to be helping students to improve their mood and achieve better focus in class while lowering stress and anxiety.
Breaking New Ground
Landmark East is the first school in the Maritimes to include strenuous exercise as a key component in the daily academic curriculum. Students and faculty engage in a variety of fitness activities every morning for a 30 minute period with the objective being to reach and sustain a target heart rate of 80% of maximum for twenty minutes. Increasingly research is showing that getting the blood pumping is really important in neurogenesis — the birth of neurons. In fact, vigorous exercise releases a whole family of proteins called factors, the most important being a molecule called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) that work to build and maintain cell circuitry in the brain — the actual infrastructure of the brain.
Experts in Their Field
Dr. Ratey and his research team bring extensive international experience in working with elite athletes, schools and community groups where the main focus is usually “the exercise effect.” At Landmark our hope is better understand the long-term effects of cardiovascular exercise on students’ academic achievement, physical fitness and emotional health. Our working premiss is that regular, intense bouts of exercise may be critical toward creating learning readiness for all students. Heart rate monitors will be used by all student to help them remain in their target heart rate zones during all phases of the workout. These monitors also provide biofeedback that is key to engaging and motivating participants to work hard.
Beyond The Study
Although we hope this high-profile pilot project at Landmark East will provide solid evidence of the academic value of exercise going forward, we also hope to compellingly illustrate a pathway that others could choose to follow, especially in public education. In the words of Dr Ratey, “Hopefully our research will become the basis upon which a comprehensive plan of exercise and movement might be implemented in schools throughout Nova Scotia and Canada.”
Ultimately, the ideal outcome of SPARK would be to create a daily aerobic exercise culture and to establish in all community members the idea of strenuous exercise as a life-long habit. And we now know it is important to start young. Recent studies have shown that one of the most important determinants of adult activity levels later in life is whether or not they experienced the value and benefits of exercise as children.
Saluting Our Partners
Dr. Roxanne Seaman, School of Recreation Management and Kinesiology at Acadia University has been instrumental in working with Dr. Ratey and his team of researchers. The testing created a wonderful learning experience for the Acadia students while they collected physical condition data for Landmark East students.
Farmers Dairy has provides Landmark East students with a healthy energy drink option for our Spark Fit snack.
We also want to thank private donors and community partnership grants received from Active Kids, Healthy Kids Fund, NS Health Protection and Promotion Grant and the Wellness Initiative Fund.