Alberta can lead

An advocate of how plain old physical fitness in schools helps students learn says Alberta has the opportunity to be an example for Canada, even the world.

An advocate of how plain old physical fitness in schools helps students learn says Alberta has the opportunity to be an example for Canada, even the world.

Psychiatrist Dr. John Ratey, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said the benefits of daily aerobic and strength training for at least 40 minutes a day is overwhelming.

And Alberta already seems more committed to the overall wellness of students, he said.

“I’m very impressed with the people I’ve met here and the programs that they have that are very different than the U.S. There’s very different energy,” said Ratey after his presentation to teachers at the 49th annual Health and Physical Education Council Conference held at the Collicutt Centre on Friday.

“In the U.S., a lot of it is the old gym class where we have coaches and they’re only interested in the teams.” Alberta Education policy currently requires all students in Grades 1 to 9 to be physically active for at least 30 minutes daily in activities organized by the school.

Ratey is on a mission to get children exercising to activate the front part of the brain, which deals with taking in information and the ability to pay attention. Turning on that part of the brain also suppresses the urge to cause trouble and has shown to reduce aggression and bullying.

“Exercise increases the amount of cells in the brain.

“When you’re moving, it creates the cellular environment for our brains cells to grow and change and that’s the only way we learn and we think, with our brains changing. We wire in new information.”

Ratey wrote the book Spark in 2008 that explores the connection between brain performance and exercise, even moderate exercise, to sharpen thinking, enhance memory, beat stress and improve focus and attention in people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

He said movement is also a necessity in the battle against childhood obesity.

“Last year one in five kids entering kindergarten were already obese. A big part of that is not just bad food, it’s sitting. It’s a sedentary lifestyle that these kids come from and they have to be taught how to play and move because they don’t know.”

Ratey said the biggest hurdle in promoting physical activity in schools is that it takes time away from other classes.

He called on Alberta’s physical education teachers to be the agents of change.

“What you’ve always known is true. The kids who are fit are cognitively fit.”

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com