Not Your Father’s P.E. Class (Exercise for the Brain)

Let me save you some time right out the gate and tell you to go read “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain”; if you want the real substance. What I am going to say is good, because I’m good, but I think it most prudent if you go read the full 280 (pages).

So, do that.

Read that book.


Now we/I can talk about a specific case study from the book, analyzing the data, and explain its absolute game-changing significance; just what it could, and should, mean for people. People as a whole. It is that important.

For better or worse, our education system as a macrocosm, especially based in math and science, is measured comparatively against the rest of the world—most notably Asia. Without making any insensitive or offensive jokes about math and Orient—I mean Asians—we were (at time of “Spark”, early 2000’s) getting straight up rick-rolled. The TIMMS, providing quantitative measurement of our students aptitude in math, and science, laid it all out. And it wasn’t good.

(If you’ve read anything I’ve written before, I’m pretty consistent in my refusal to cite. TIMMS is a standardized test that measures aptitude in math and science that provided the eye-opening data and correlation referenced in “Spark” and in this post. I don’t know what it stands for. I don’t care.)

It was in that light, though, fueled by the taint of mediocrity—in first-world global comparison—that the cool shit happened. Naperville, Illinois, a suburb outside of Chicago, was where the cool shit started.

In essence, so I can get into my essay-opinion style-prose and stop referencing a book/case-study, here is what happened; quantitative in measurement and qualitative in influence:

  • Naperville Central High School—acting in response to both failing academic standards (TIMMS) and the influence of a select few visionary physical educators—implemented a new physical education curriculum.
  • To track results, the coursework of certain students, most specifically their morning classes, was noted. The students who were involved in the initial, newly implemented physical education program were required to attend “P.E.” before their first “academic” class. They had to begin their day with exercise, and then attend the “academic” class that was to be measured. The other subset of students did not.
  • The students involved in the physical education program also were to have their standardized testing measured, for improvement or regression.
  • The physical education criteria, to condense in essence, was crafted in pragmatic opposition to standard P.E. class. And you know what I’m talking about when I say “standard P.E class”, too: the jocks playing dodgeball or basketball trying to impress the cheerleader—fawning and not involved, pregnant by Thursday—and the remaining portion of the class stand idle hoping the ball isn’t sent their way. In like, every imaginable way, not just aerobic/anaerobic capacity, it’s unhealthy. Naperville Central High changed that.
  • Resting and active heart rate was studied and tracked, and aerobic/anaerobic capacity was part of the education. Movement and progression was the aim and everyone was involved. When team sports were played—and they still were—they were broken down into smaller games with fewer participants, so activity/movement was continuous. Students were given options to choose from, too, as long as they sought active movement. Walking, jogging, running, jumping, swimming, climbing. All of it. This was their active physical education.
  • Like you would expect, and in line with everything I’m about to expound upon, the students that were active in the mornings absolutely demolished their non-active counterparts. In relation to before and after grades and then later their standardized testing, the results were incontrovertible. Not even close. Physical activity and movement translates directly to big time brain-gains.

(You can use “brain-gains” if you want. I came up with it, but you can use it.)

So what does this data and information mean for you, a grown ass man or woman unconcerned with the American Education system?

A lot.

A lot a lot.

Science and technology—advancement in brain, nervous system imaging—is corroborating everything noted in this study. But for adults, too. We now know that the dated contention of fixed neural capacity is just that, dated. Growing and rewiring of the brain, as we learn and try new things, will continue into our final years of life. My dad, just recently 70, joined a doubles tennis league and hit up a chick on Bumble. Growth never stops.

And as we now know that we can continue to nourish and change our brain, let us use this notion—now proven—of mindbody. There is no greater prep and aid to learning and cognition than exercise; the body in mindbody. The imaging just referenced shows that in a three-hour window, post-exercise, neurotransmitters are created and travel at their most optimum levels. This is the mindbody connection.

This is something we can, and should use, just like the students of Naperville Central High. As often as we can.

To elaborate a bit more on the science, just look back a little bit to our origin and primal development. Our brains are wired to survive. That means food, shelter, sexy-time. Our active thinking minds (neo-cortex), most recent in our evolutionary development, evolved solely because of societal advances. As humans became more advanced, and language and irrigation and stealing-yo-girl became things, the brain adapted. But survival was always the purpose, and satisfying our brain and nervous systems—the parts that stress us for fear of non-survival—was and is done through movement. This is why we feel and think best after exercise. It’s that simple. Simple, like the creation of brain derived neurotrophic factors after high intensity training.

(Obviously I’m coming in hot and trying to sound intelligent. I’ve been broken up with twice in the last calendar year. I’m masking insecurities. But this info actually is legit.)

Functional movement—the walking, running, climbing, swimming, high-intensity training, referenced in the opening explanation of Naperville Central High physical education explanation—sparks the brain like nothing else. Hopefully that makes sense after the evolutionary instruct above, because I don’t want to talk about science anymore. I do, though, want to end championing for more movement. Movement in its literal term.

Everything works better in a whole form. A human being is the best example of that.

Integrate body and mind and exercise with holistic gain in lens. Move, and be physical, knowing that you are doing more for your wellness than you could through any other vehicle.


My dad’s interests, per his social dating profiles, are baseball, tennis, exercise, divorce᷃s, and swimming.

Exercise plays.

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