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Including exercise breaks during class time seen as a way to boost learning

According to Dr. Manuel Montero Odasso, exercising enhances memory consolidation by encouraging the creation of new connections between neurons

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Despite being an unorthodox teaching technique, the inclusion of mini exercise breaks during class can help students remain focused, a new Oregon study concludes.

A recent survey of Brain Breaks, a classroom-use DVD with five-minute-long exercise routines developed by Oregon State University and piloted in more than 400 kindergarten to Grade 6 classrooms, found that students enjoyed the program, and that more than 90 per cent of teachers planned to continue using it.

Oregon has some of the largest class sizes in the United States, with an average of 27 children a class at the primary level, and 29 children in middle-school classes over 2011 and 2012. With more kids and fewer resources, physical-education programs are often cut first. Growing evidence shows this hinders student learning.

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According to Dr. Manuel Montero Odasso, associate professor of medicine at the University of Western Ontario, exercising enhances memory consolidation by encouraging the creation of new connections between neurons.

Ontario teacher Sheryl Parker sees the results of mini exercise breaks firsthand with students in her Adventure Class, an alternative program offered through the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board.

Those who show the most improvement in learning are students with attention-deficit disorders who don't get enough stimulation in class, she says, as well as those students from lower-income families who may not have the same opportunities to get involved with physical extracurricular activities.

"Kids just aren't as active as they used to be," Mrs. Parker said. "Naturally, kids need to move and I think we've been taking that out of their lives."

A day in her class consists of music, cross-crawling, 30-second dance parties, meditation, stretches, once-a-week runs and problem-solving challenges incorporated with physical games.

"When I've had kids that come in new to the program, I notice those kids really benefiting from moving around," she said, adding that results show within a month.

Montero Odasso cautioned that lifestyle choices may adversely affect a student's ability to learn.

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"If during our early childhood we are exposed more to 'easy-to-digest' technology, like TV, with more distractions instead of activities which require more sustained attention and imagination, like reading, it would potentially carry the risk of '[creating]' brain connections which would prefer activities with less attentional demands," he wrote in an e-mail.

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