There has been a lot of news lately about how physical activity can help children learn.

Some elementary schools in Minnesota and Wisconsin have students stand at their desks, or sit on adjustable stools - with good results, according to a recent New York Times article. Children like having the option of standing or sitting, and being able to fidget a bit helps them focus and concentrate. Their teachers agree - they no longer see kids struggling to stay still while sitting in traditional classroom seats. Students don't put their heads down on their desks during class and fall asleep anymore. When they're tired, they can stand up and shift their weight from foot to foot, helping them stay awake.

On a similar note, National Public Radio recently broadcast a story on schools in South Carolina that are incorporating a lot of physical activity into classroom work. For example, students jump rope while learning their multiplication tables, or walk around the classroom while reciting poetry. At other schools across the country, researchers have seen academic successes when more physical activity is incorporated into the classroom.

We all know that preschoolers and kindergartners are full of energy and have short attention spans, so they need frequent breaks and lots of physical activity. It's traditionally assumed that as children get older, they should be able to sit still for extended periods of time. For many children, this is very difficult - and for some, it's impossible.

Researchers in North Carolina followed a classroom in which students took regular 10-minute exercise breaks. They found that the students who had the most trouble staying on task before the exercise program were the ones who benefited from it the most.

Scientists studying the links between physical exercise and learning believe that exercise may increase the production of new brain cells and also help those cells create synapses - the connections between brain cells that are crucial to helping us learn new things.

Physical activity increases blood flow to the brain, helping it function more efficiently. Also, exercise stimulates the production of neurotransmitters that help us regulate our moods and pay attention to the task at hand.

I love the idea of children having frequent exercise breaks during the day, as well as incorporating physical activity into classroom activities. I wish every child could have a safe one-mile walk to and from school, a P.E. class every day, and a bounty of fresh, delicious, locally-grown and super-nutritious food, too.

As someone who has always had hard time sitting still for more than 15 minutes at a time, this is a topic close to my heart. I know the more physical activity I get during the day, the more I'm able to focus on my work.

And now I'm going shopping for a tall desk so I can stand up while working on my computer, and I'll fidget to my heart's content.


Kathryn B. Brown worked as a registered nurse and a nurse practitioner before coming to work for the East Oregonian. Her column appears here every other week. She can be reached at

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