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SanTan Sun News

March 2012 1 Exercise works kids’ bodies, minds by Alison Stanton As a physical education teacher at

Tarwater and Knox Elementary schools in Chandler, Leslie Hicks spends her days teaching children about how fun it is to be physically active. Hicks, who is also president of Arizona

Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, knows firsthand that what looks to the kids like an enjoy- able 25-minute game of kickball is actually much more: the physical activity is also helping the students perform better in the classroom. “Exercise is not only important for

What’s inside

physical health but it’s also important for learning,” she says. “I’ve been reading up on brain research and how not just PE but also recess time and extracurric- ular activities help students in school, and how they need what are called brain breaks and other ener- gizers that can be

done right in the class-

room. Exercise can actually change the brain and can impact how learning is done.” As part of her work,

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Just 4 Kids Sponsored by City of Chandler Recreation Division

Hicks created a physical education page for the Chandler

Unified School District filled with information about physical activity recommendations and much more: She also recommends the following books and websites: “Spark: the Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the

Brain,” by John Ratey, M.D. “The Kinesthetic Classroom: Teaching and Learning through

Movement,” by Michael S. Kuczala and Traci Lengel. “Brain Rules,” by John Medina. The City of Chandler offers a wide variety of parks, swim-

ming pools and classes that provide both children and their parents the chance to stay active including: Pools and aquatic centers; splash/spray pads; Playtopia at

Tumbleweed Park; Paseo Vista Recreation Area; Paseo Trail; Veterans Oasis Environmental Education Center; tennis classes; extreme sports; archery and horsemanship classes and more for kids, individuals and families. Visit for more information. City of Chandler information provided by the Communication and Public Affairs Department

Hicks also teaches classes in both the Chandler Unified and the Kyrene Elementary school districts on the whole concept of mind and body connection and how everything works together. She instructs teachers on how they can find ways to integrate phys- ical activity into their school days. “The longer the students

sit, the less focus they have,” she says. “Exercise is the number

FIT LEARNING: Research shows regular exercise and activity helps children keep both their bodies and their minds healthy.

years you can see how obesity has grown across the nation. Obesity levels are now more than 25 to 30% in many states. I feel this trend goes hand in hand with the advances in technology that we have today, which have essentially engineered exer- cise out of our day.”

High-tech habits While Hicks says tech-

nology can definitely be a positive thing, what con- cerns her is how the health of both children and adults have taken a great hit as a result. For example, when she

one manager of a student’s learning state. Research has found that you can actually change this learning state and the ability to focus just by exercising. They have to get up and get moving, which will give them what I like to call “butt power” meaning they are ready to sit down and learn.” Another reason children need to be as

EXERCISE: Leslie Hicks teaches physical education at two Chandler elementary schools and is president of Arizona Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. Submitted photo

teaches physical education classes, Hicks says she notices that kids’ skill levels are decreasing, probably because they are not outside playing as much as previous generations used to do. “Their knowledge of

games and activities is not as good,” she says. “Many kids and their parents

will go home and go inside and close the door.” Hicks says she is also worried about the

recent trend of cutting back on physical education classes. “Schools are getting further away from

active as possible both at home and at school, Hicks says, is because of rising obe- sity rates. “If you look at the statistics in the U.S. relating to obesity, during the past 20 or 30

the recommendation of 30 minutes of exercise a day, and hopefully we can stop the decline of taking PE out of schools. We need to be thinking about how we can keep those PE times,” she says.

Avoid recess time outs When she is speaking with teachers,

Hicks also stresses the importance of recess and tries to caution using the loss of morning or afternoon playtime as a punishment. “I understand that kids can be disrup-

tive, and teachers might think about tak- ing away recess as a punishment, but what they might not realize is that those students are probably being disruptive because they need recess and need to get up and get moving.” In fact, Hicks says teachers may wish

to view the disruptive child as a barome- ter for the rest of the class. “If he or she’s getting wiggly, the rest

of the class is probably right behind,” she says. Parents can also do a lot to make sure

their children get enough exercise and activity, Hicks says. “Parents and their kids can start the

school day with a morning walk, maybe by walking to school or dropping off the kids further away from school. This will bring the students in ready to learn,” she says, adding that getting exercise before class has been shown to help students learn better and process the information they are being taught throughout the entire day. As a bonus, parents who can walk to

school with their children are also get- ting needed exercise. “The research is no different from kids

to adults; they should get up and do activity as well,” Hicks says. Alison Stanton is a freelance writer who

lives in the East Valley. She can be reached at

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