Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Spark Experiment

One of the books I have been reading lately is Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey

"Neuroscientists have found that exercise increases blood flow and the release of beneficial chemicals including dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, plus a substance known as BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which essentially fertilizes new neurons, or brain cells.

John Ratey, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has written a whole book on the brain-body-workout nexus, titled Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. A lifelong exercise junkie, Ratey compares physical exercise to medication, saying it offers some benefits of Ritalin, Prozac and morphine combined, without pills. He’s currently bullish on high-intensity interval training, which requires pushing hard for 30 seconds to a minute during a 20 to 30-minute session of running, biking, or swimming. “That will really pump out those brain chemicals, and is also good for your heart,” he says, although he warns that you need to be reasonably fit before trying this at home. Ratey uses a treadmill (“so I don’t cheat”), setting the angle at seven or eight, at least three times a week." - Forbes

The book Spark, discusses Naperville High School's Zero Period excercise program which you can read more about here: LINK
"Naperville's Zero Hour PE (refers to its scheduled time before first period), the latest in a long line of educational experiments, was initiated to determine whether working out before school gives these kids a boost in reading ability and in the rest of their subjects. At the end of the semester, Zero Hour classmates showed a 17 percent improvement in reading and comprehension, compared with a 10.7 percent improvement among the other literacy students who opted to sleep in and take standard phys ed."

"Despite groans from students, complaints from parents, and notes from doctors he was undeterred - although he quickly recognized that the grading scale discouraged the slowest runners. To offer nonathletes a shot at good marks, the department bought a couple of stationary bikes and allowed students to earn extra credit. This evolved into personal bests and what he dubbed the New PE: Students would be assessed on effort rather than skill. Soon heart rate monitors were incorporated, and Naperville’s gym students were graded on how much time they spent in their target heart rate zones during any given activity."

Results: Their test scores and reading skills went through the roof!

I searched all over for heart rate monitors so we could implement this in to our school schedule. I was so excited when I found these:

At this price I could get one for each of the older kids.

Each package has the watch and a fabric chest strap that wirelessly transmits continuous heart rate data. 
So this is the beginning of our own Spark Experiment. Already the do several laps twice a week. Now we will step it up and see what happens.

If you are not a student, and maybe have  ADD, OCD, anxiety, depression, addiction and even just aging, and want to join in... Let me know what you are doing to Spark you brain as well.

Students Workout Throughout the Day
School boards and teachers all were involved in selecting the schools and students to participate, based on scheduling, willingness to participate and likelihood of benefiting from the program.

Aerobic Physical Activity in Morning
Students start the day by doing at least 20 minutes of aerobic physical activity on treadmills, stationary bicycles and elliptical training machines

Target Heart Rate during Physical Activity
During the workout, students will target 65-85 per cent of their maximum heart rate. This means students can talk, but it's difficult to have a conversation.

Short Physical Activity "Boosts" throughout the Day
During the rest of the day, students will do a few short periods of aerobic physical activity to boost their mental focus.

Cardio Box 5 min example:
• The following exercises should be performed
for 15 seconds each:
- Jog in place
- Squat and jive
- Squat and jab (each arm)
- Squat and uppercut (each arm)
- Boxer jump
- Wall squat
- Boxer jump and jab (each arm)
- Lunges (each leg)
- Jog in place
- Squat and backward kick
• Repeat this circuit twice

Agility Touches
• Set five or more pylons in a vertical line, one
foot apart
• Form a vertical line behind pylons
• Run and weave through pylons, running
straight back to the start once you have
passed through the last cone (tag next
person in line)
• Repeat with each participant until they have
completed this activity
• Starting with the first participant again, jump
over each pylon (feet together), running
straight back once you have passed the last
pylon (tag next person in line)
• Repeat with each participant until they have
all completed this activity

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