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Record Number: 484673691.

Movement is essential to
Author: Blakemore, Connie L
Journal of Physical
Education, Recreation &
Dance Vol 74,Iss 9,
Nov/Dec 2003


Writing or talking about an idea often provides enough muscle movement, but some people think
best while they are swimming, running, or shaving, all of which involves movement. Here,
Blakemore discusses the necessity of movement and physical activities in an individual's learning


Hannaford (1995) reminds people that "the human qualities we associate with the mind can
never exist separate from the body" (p. 11) because movement is an indispensable part of
learning and thinking, as well as an integral part of mental processing. Furthermore, thinking and
learning does not take place only in our head; people need to become more aware of the body's
role in learning. Many educators and researchers agree that the brain is activated during physical
activity and that movement is essential to learning (Hannaford, 1995; Howard, 2000; Jensen,
2000a; Summerford, 2000; Wolfe, 2001). Hannaford (1995) writes,
To 'pin down' a thought, there must he movement....Movement anchors thought....Learning
involves the building of skills, and skills of every manner are built through the movement of
muscles....Medicine, art, music, science: competence in these and other professions develop
through an intricate internal networking among thought, muscles, and emotions, (p. 98)
Writing or talking about an idea often provides enough muscle movement, but some people think
best while they are swimming, running, or shaving, all of which involve movement. Jensen and
Dabney (2000) state that such physical exercise invigorates existing brain cells and may even
stimulate the growth of new ones.
Human understanding of the brain is in its infancy, and much research needs to be done (Wolfe,
2001). Knowledge is growing quickly, however, and often does not have the replicating research
that it needs. Nevertheless, this new information opens many doors for physical educators so
that they can use movement activities to enhance the capabilities of the brain. Educators and
parents should look for different ways to help individual students and to incorporate the
applicable information, because not all students will react the same way under the same
circumstances. Each brain is unique.
Educators, physicians, parents, and political leaders are some of the people who need to be
educated about recent brain function discoveries that confirm that movement and physical
education activities do enhance student learning. Conveying such information to school board
members and legislators may persuade them to maintain or increase the time spent in physical
education classes and related activities. In times of diminishing budgets, educators must make
difficult choices. Do physical education, dance, and theater belong in the budget? Are they frills
or fundamentals? Do elementary school classes take time for movement activity when reading,
writing, and arithmetic are clamoring for more minutes in the school day? Jensen (2000a)
believes that "classroom teachers should have kids move for the same reason that physical
education teachers have kids count. Physical education, movement, drama, and the arts all add
to, rather than detract from, the 'core curriculum'" (p. 165). All curriculum areas should be
The California Department of Education (CDE, 2002) conducted a study that showed a distinct
relationship between academic achievement and physical fitness among California's public
school students. The study matched scores from the SAT9 with the results of the state-mandated
physical fitness tests that were given in 2001 to students in grades five (N = 353,000), seven (N
= 322,000), and nine (N = 279,000). Key findings of the study were (1) higher SAT scores were
associated with higher levels of fitness at each of the three grade levels; (2) the relationship
believes that "classroom teachers should have kids move for the same reason that physical
education teachers have kids count. Physical education, movement, drama, and the arts all add
to, rather than detract from, the 'core curriculum'" (p. 165). All curriculum areas should be
The California Department of Education (CDE, 2002) conducted a study that showed a distinct
relationship between academic achievement and physical fitness among California's public
school students. The study matched scores from the SAT9 with the results of the state-mandated
physical fitness tests that were given in 2001 to students in grades five (N = 353,000), seven (N
= 322,000), and nine (N = 279,000). Key findings of the study were (1) higher SAT scores were
associated with higher levels of fitness at each of the three grade levels; (2) the relationship
between academic achievement and fitness was greater in mathematics than in reading,
particularly at higher fitness levels; (3) students who met minimum fitness levels in three or more
physical fitness areas showed the greatest academic gains at all three grade levels; and (4)
females showed higher academic achievement than males, particularly at higher fitness levels.
The state-mandated fitness test was the Fitnessgram, which uses criterion-referenced standards
in order to evaluate six fitness tasks. The results of the test documented that the more tasks in
which students tested fit, the higher their percentile of achievement on the SAT9 test. The
reading percentile scores were as follows:
* 5th grade-29 (1 task) as compared to 55 (6 tasks)
* 7th grade-26 as compared to 60
* 9th grade-21 as compared to 45
Mathematics percentile scores were as follows:
* 5th grade-36 (1 task) as compared to 71 (6 tasks)
* 7th grade-28 as compared to 66
* 9th grade-35 as compared to 67
California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin commented, "This statewide
study provides compelling evidence that the physical well-being of students has a direct impact
on their ability to achieve academically...students achieve best when they are physically fit..."
(CDE, 2002, p.1). The study also pointed out that only 23 percent of California's fifth, seventh,
and ninth graders were considered physically fit. It seems logical that if more students were
physically fit, more of them would score higher on the SAT tests. Superintendent Eastin also
indicated that physical education is a primary source for promoting physical fitness and urged
that every student in California should have quality physical education experiences from
kindergarten through the 12th grade.
These recent findings in California add to the research from around the world that supports the
hypothesis that physical activity and academic achievement are linked in a positive way (Dwyer,
Sallis, Blizzard, Lazarus, & Dean, 2001; Sallis et al., 1999; Shephard, 1997). Shephard (1997)
thoroughly reviewed longitudinal studies that were done in France, Australia, and Quebec. His
conclusion was that academic performance is maintained or even enhanced when 14 to 26
percent of curricular time is allocated to physical activity, and the increase in academic
performance is further enhanced when even more time is spent on physical activity. He
suggested that physical activity at school could enhance academic performance by increasing
cerebral blood flow, enhancing arousal level, changing hormone secretion, enhancing nutrient
intake, changing body build, and improving self-esteem. These studies suggested that
measurement bias and confounding variables, such as teacher or student attitudes, may be
responsible for academic achievement in relation to physical activity and fitness. However, the
consensus in all studies was three-fold: (1) they supported quality physical education programs
in the schools, (2) increased time in physical education does not have detrimental effects on
students' academic achievement, and (3) further study with randomized subjects should be
conducted. The California study (CDE, 2002) brings updated and more sophisticated data to the
literature. Findings from all of these studies provide compelling support for requiring physical
education in school curriculums throughout the nation. Researchers are encouraged to replicate
these findings in other settings.
The Shape of the Nation Report (National Association for Sport and Physical Education
[NASPE], 2001) indicates that most states do not follow the guidelines set in the Surgeon
General's Report (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996), which requires daily
physical education for all K-12 students. Furthermore, there are more overweight children than
ever before. The number of children who are heavy is almost double the number that was
reported in the late 1970s. Currently, 13 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 11 and 14
percent of children between the ages of 12 and 19 are overweight. Almost half of the young
people (ages 12 to 21) and more than one-third of high school students do not participate in
vigorous activity on a regular basis. Fewer than one in every four children get 20 minutes of
vigorous activity every day of the week. Girls get significantly less physical activity than boys at
all levels. Nationwide, 56.1 percent of all students are enrolled in physical education classes,
while only 29.1 percent of high school students attend daily physical education classes. This is
down from 42 percent in 1991. These behaviors in young people lead to an unhealthy lifestyle as
adults. More than 60 percent of adults do not get the recommended amount of regular physical
activity, and 25 percent of adults are not active at all. Inactivity and poor diet cause at least
300,000 deaths a year in the United States, a number surpassed only by tobacco-related deaths
(U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996).
The Body-Mind Connection
It is no wonder that the physical well-being of students has a direct impact on their ability to
achieve academically, as demonstrated in the California study (CDR, 2002). Howard (2000),
Jensen (2000a), and Jensen and Dabney (2000) explain the following known effects of exercise
on the neurological system:
* The number of capillaries increases around the neurons of the brain, thus facilitating an
increase in blood and oxygen. This improves the speed of recall.
* Circulation is enhanced due to increased capillaries and the transport of more oxygen and
nutrients to the brain.
* Gross-motor repetitive movements stimulate the production of dopamine, a mood-enhancing
* When some exercises are performed, endorphins are released and alertness increases.
* The release of chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine reduces depression by as much as
50 percent.
* Improving fitness levels create faster reaction times.
* The production of the hormone NGF (nerve growth factor), which enhances brain function by
stimulating the growth of nerve cells, may be spurred.
Research that links these findings with specific brain operations still needs to be done.
Jensen and Dabney (2000) found that running and other strenuous exercises enhance brain
activity the most. Cognitive reading skills are the most affected. Moderate amounts of exercise-
such as three times a week, for 20 minutes a day-can also have very beneficial effects.
Dienstbier (1989) reported that physical exercise alone seems to train a quick adrenaline-
nonadrenaline response and rapid recovery so that the body can become adept at responding to
mental challenges. Hannaford (1995) stated that, in 13 studies linking exercise to brain power,
exercise was found to stimulate the growth of developing brains and prevent the deterioration of
older brains. Jensen (1998) and Hannaford (1995) reported that children who engaged in daily
physical education showed superior motor fitness, higher academic performance, and a more
positive attitude toward school in comparison to nonparticipants. Silverman (1998) found that
students boost their academic learning when they participate in games and "play" activities.
Enhancing the Body-Mind Connection
If teachers can get students to think while they are doing physical activity, the movement is
especially beneficial. Activity can be helpful in focusing attention, but activity alone is insufficient
for learning to take place (Carter, 1998; Leamnson, 2000; Wolfe, 2001). It is vital that physical
educators do more than just roll out the ball. They should ask students to create their own plays
and concentrate on the rules, cues, and offensive and defensive strategies while playing the
game. Keep in mind, however, that the "number of minutes a student can stay focused is equal
to his/her age plus two" (Sprenger, 1999, p. 94).
Most schools make curricular decisions based on traditional practices that do not take into
account recent brain performance discoveries. Performance is dramatically affected by our
biological rhythms, which are controlled by the brain and hormones. Cycles vary slightly from
person to person and from day to day (Jensen, 2001). High- and low-energy cycles alternate
throughout the day. In a normal physical education class, some of the students will be at the
peak of their energy cycle, while others will be at the bottom. This pattern is also evident in
conjunction with left and right hemispheric efficiency; therefore, students will be more adept at
performing specific brain functions at different times of the day. Typically, high-energy times
occur approximately 90 minutes after the last energy high. Overall, most individuals' physical
strength and body temperature arc at their zenith in the afternoon.
Teen biorhythms are different from those of adults. Jarvik (1998) pointed out that teenagers need
more sleep than children and adults. They need to go to sleep later at night and sleep later into
the morning. Sluggishness during the first two class periods may be due to sleep deprivation.
Teenagers are more alert after 8:30 a.m. For this reason, many educators believe that secondary
schools should start after 8:30 a.m. Jensen (2000) suggested the following four practices to take
advantage of the biological rhythms that are controlled by the brain and hormones.
1. In general, a person's short-term memory is best in the morning and least effective in the
afternoon. If a choice is possible, do the activities that require quick recall (e.g., cues) earlier in
the day.
2. Long-term memory is generally best in the afternoon. Lessons infused with repetition or
emotional energy may be more meaningful later in the school day.
3. Give the students a choice about when they want to perform activities based on their own
biorhythms. If at all possible, let them choose when to schedule their physical education period or
what type of activity they want to participate in during class.
4. Give students a mental break several times a day.
Everything that is mental originates from some corresponding order or disorder in chemical
processes (Sprenger, 1999; Wolfe, 2001). Some of these chemicals include epinephrine (also
known as "adrenaline"), which is a result of tension, competition, or challenge and primes the
body to respond to an emergency; serotonin, which is a by-product of strenuous exercise; and
dopamine, which controls arousal levels in many parts of the brain. Specific movement activates
the release of chemicals that can enhance motivation. It is good to remember that students with
an imbalance of these chemicals could react with defiance, despair, thoughtlessness, euphoria,
aggression, or boundless energy (Carter, 1998; Kotulak, 1996). Jensen and Dabney (2000)
reported that exercise, especially aerobic exercise, enhances the release of endorphins, which in
turn reduce the symptoms of stress and depression. Exercise also positively affects the levels of
some neurotransmitters, such as glucose, which stimulates cognition. The activation of these
chemicals is known as the internal reward system of the body.
The brain is 80 percent water and, therefore, must be hydrated for optimal functioning
(Hannaford, 1995; Jensen, 2001). Teachers should provide their students with access to an
adequate water supply during all activities.
The Cerebellum and Inner Ear
The cerebellum, the small portion of the brain close to the brain stem, is commonly linked to
movement. It makes up only one-tenth of the brain's volume, but contains over half of its
neurons, making it a virtual switchboard of cognitive activity. In all mammals, the cerebellum is
the key to balance, maintenance of body posture, and coordination of muscle function. Czerner
(2001), Jensen (2000a), Leamnson (2000), Sprenger (1999), and Wolfe (2001) suggest that
there are strong links between the cerebellum and memory, spatial perception, language,
attention, emotion, nonverbal cues, and decision making. Hannaford (1995), Jensen (1998,
2000a), and Wolfe (2001) have linked this part of the brain to cognition, novelty, and emotions. It
is believed that the cerebellum filters and integrates brain data, which allows for complex
decision making. It is here that early movement patterns, such as walking and grasping, are
stored and called upon later whenever they are needed. However, there is not a single
"movement center" in the brain, which suggests that movement and learning have constant
interplay. Constant repetition of physical movements causes the skills involved to become more
automatic. Eventually the cerebellum begins to control these movements (Wolfe, 2001). The
cerebellum's link to movement and cognition implies that physical education and games have
value in boosting cognition.
Movement stimulates the inner ear as well as the cerebellum. Sensory data is regulated in the
inner ear and helps one to maintain balance, to turn thinking into actions, and to coordinate
movements. Playground activities such as swinging, rolling (e.g., somersaults), and jumping are
especially valuable because they stimulate the brain and the inner ear (Hannaford, 1995;
Jensen, 1998). The time that students spend in physical education should be filled with activities.
Children also need adequate time to be active on the playground so that classroom time will be
more productive.
Specific Movement Activities
Gavin (1992) maintains that different exercises will appeal to different people, based on their
personality. In order to make exercise effective, people should choose movement activities that
are personally appealing. Choice, in this regard, is an important ingredient for an effective
physical education class.
Sometimes specific activities should be included in the learning process in order to achieve a
desired result. Dennison and Dennison (1989) explained movement activities that help students
reach their full potential and that are especially effective in improving academic skills. Such
activities are designed to enhance the experience of whole-brain learning with quick, simple,
task-specific movements. The creators of this program believe that these activities stimulate all
areas of the brain, allowing them to be accessed, even if they were previously inaccessible.
Hannaford (1995) summarized research that supports the use of these movement activities to
enhance the brain. She emphasized that she had "never worked with an age group or type of
individual that failed to learn more effectively as a result of using these exercises" (p. 131). She
also suggested that these activities contribute to the minor adjustments that are necessary to
enable the brain to learn more effectively, thus reversing the expectation of failure. For example,
the cross crawl accesses both hemispheres of the brain simultaneously (Dennison & Dennison,
1989). It can be done while either walking or sitting by moving opposite arms and legs together.
The arms and legs move in various directions. The cross crawl can be done to music or rhythm,
and with the eyes closed in order to improve balance. Jensen (2000b) reinforces this concept by
pointing out that some movement activities will restore balance and stability to the brain. For
example, cross laterals (e.g., touching the left foot with the right hand) stimulate the reconnecting
of both brain hemispheres if they are disturbed by emotional episodes. When students are
unable to concentrate or behave in an orderly manner, it may be a good idea to stop and do
jumping jacks with the hands crossing over each other. This simple activity may be what is
needed to restore order to the class, since this movement pattern reconnects both brain
Another example of a movement activity that is designed to activate the brain is the rocker
(Dennison & Dennison, 1989). This movement pattern is done on a padded surface, using hands
for support, or in a chair holding on to the sides. The feet are lifted and the person rocks. If one
rocks in small circles, first on one hip and then the other, tension is released in the low back and
sacrum. When the sacrum is free to move, the brain, at the other end of the central nervous
system, is activated as well.
Why is it that physical education is one of the programs that is often reduced or eliminated when
schools must make budget cuts? Could it be because decision makers are not aware of the link
between academic performance and the movement of the body? The link between academic
achievement, movement, and physical fitness is more than supposition, as the CDE (2002) study
and the other studies cited in this article have shown. The CDE study also concludes that
physical activity can indirectly increase students' academic performance by improving their
emotional health, self-esteem, and alertness.
Because of the importance of establishing positive health habits at an early age, Shephard
(2002) emphasized that school boards should be encouraged to follow a policy of required daily
physical activity in primary schools. In addition, such a policy can be instituted without
compromising academic development.
The experience of practitioners is also beginning to substantiate mind-body links. Every school
curriculum should include movement activities and daily physical education. Educators,
physicians, parents, and political leaders need to be informed that movement and physical
education activities do enhance learning. Movement activities that support brain functions should
be a part of each child's school day. To that end, it is vital that, every K-12 student have daily,
quality physical education.
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Connie L. Blakemore ( is an emeritus professor at Brigham Young
University, Orem, UT 84058.

Copyright American
Alliance for Health,
Physical Education and
Recreation Nov/Dec