Check out an excerpt from this great NPR story highlighting Woodland Elementary School, a PE4life Academy Training Center.
How Revving Up Your Heart Rate, Even A Bit, Pays Off
Benefits Beyond The Heart
Nowadays, much of the focus on fitness is about how to exercise to prevent obesity. One school started measuring target heart rate zones as part of an in-school exercise program. And they found it helped more than just the students' physical health.
"[Exercise] should be fun," says principal Craig Rupert of Woodland Elementary School in Kansas, Mo., as he shows off his school's gym, which has been converted into an exercise arcade.
With the help of the national nonprofit group PE4Life, he's pushing to expand physical education. Rupert says by sixth grade, the majority of students do not participate in organized, competitive athletics; their level of activity starts to drop off. The PE4Life model encourages exercise as a form of play.
"It's really about getting the kids to exercise every day," Rupert says.
On a rainy, cold Wednesday afternoon, Rupert shows how his eighth-graders are getting their heart rates up. Student Juan Reynoso cycles through a video racing game called Off-Road.
"The bike is connected to a remote control," Juan explains. "And when I pedal, it makes the car go."
As physical education instructor Bernie Fitzpatrick makes the rounds, she takes a look at Juan's heart rate monitor. Juan and his classmate Kevin Thompson have hit their target zones at about 140 beats per minute. "Keep it up," she says.
"I feel great," says Kevin, as he moves from cycling to a dance game. "And energetic."
Fitzpatrick says the point of wearing the heart-rate monitors is to teach the kids what it feels like to be exercising at the proper pace — about 60 percent of their maximum.
"If you're in the target heart rate zone, you're burning more of the fat you have stored." When people exercise beyond 80 percent of max, the body starts to burn more sugar. "So by keeping them in that, we get them to be more lean and to use up some of that body fat rather than just the candy bar they ate a little while ago."
And, Fitzpatrick says, at Woodland, the students exercise far more frequently than the 50 minutes a week of physical education typical at many schools.
No one has tested the kids at Woodland Elementary to see if the daily exercise has led to specific improvements in academic success, but PE4Life has begun to document academic gains.
The big surprise for administrators at Woodland Elementary: They've noted a significant decrease in aggressive behavior. In-school suspensions have gone down about 60 percent since the program began.
"I've seen that go down quite a bit, because they can expend that energy on the exercise equipment," says Mark Dickerson, who oversees discipline referrals.
"I've always exercised to blow off steam," Dickerson says. But the transformation at the school has surprised him. "I didn't make the connection ... that it can happen to kids, as well."
Read or listen to story in its entirety.