Exercise and education link discussed at Elgin symposium
By Denise Moran For Sun-Times Media October 12, 2013 1:54PM
Elgin Mayor David Kaptain; Dr. John J. Ratey, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School; and Tina Link, director of community outreach at Advocate Sherman Hospital, all attended the Health & Education Symposium at Elgin Academy. Denise Moran ~ for Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 14, 2013 6:41AM
ELGIN — The Health and Education Symposium, presented by Elgin Academy and Advocate Sherman Hospital this weekend at Elgin Academy, featured a variety of speakers covering subjects such as nutrition, obesity, computer science and preventing youth sports injuries.
Elgin Mayor David Kaptain said improving education in Elgin is one of his major goals.
“My philosophy is that the mayor is the glue that brings the city and educational organizations together,” Kaptain said. “We want to help children reach their potential. I recently talked to an Hispanic group and told the parents that they should become advocates for education. I saw a Hispanic mom leaving with her two sons and a stack of books. When I asked her what she was going to do with so many books, she replied: ‘Read, read, read.’ I saw the future of Elgin in that. If a kid can’t read well by the time they reach third grade, it’s hard to catch up. You can’t start reading too young.”
The keynote speaker at the symposium was Dr. John J. Ratey, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He has published more than 60 peer reviewed articles and eight books in 14 languages, including the Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder “Driven to Distraction” series with Dr. Ned Hallowell.
Ratey’s talk on Saturday focused on his most recent book, “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.”
Ratey said that early man was a hunter-gatherer who moved 10 to 14 miles a day.
“The same nerve cells that help us to move better are the same cells that help us to think,” Ratey said. “In the past 40 years, the digital world has changed us. Only 11 percent of all workers have jobs that require them to move while working. This leads to big problems. I’m noticing an uptick in the number of substance abuse and depression cases. All of these problems are prompted by our sedentary lifestyles. Sitting is the new smoking. The more we sit, the more likely we are to die young or suffer from diabetes, arthritis and heart disease.”
The focus on student test scores has diverted attention away from the need for more exercise.
“Across the country, we’re losing the amount of recess and activity that students need,” Ratey said. “A lot of 3- and 4-year-olds don’t know how to play. They don’t experience the joy of movement. We have this ‘Boy in the Bubble’ syndrome where we think we’re keeping our kids safe by not letting them go outside to play.”
Exercise is not only important for children. It is necessary for all ages.
“Many studies have looked at the effect of exercise on cognition,” Ratey said. “Exercise can help delay the effects of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. It can push it back by 10 to 15 years. If you start to exercise in middle age for three to four days a week, you can cut the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease by half.”
Olympic Gold Medal winner Michael Phelps is a good example of showing how exercise can help overcome ADD.
“Michael Phelps was diagnosed with ADD when he was 9 years old,” Ratey said. “He was put on Ritalin. His mother got him into swimming three hours a day. We all know what that helped him to accomplish.”
Instead of sitting still, Ratey said moving will help to improve our brain activity. He said that treadmill desks are now a big thing in California’s Silicon Valley. In Coral Gables, Fla., a classroom allows students to sit on exercise balls instead of chairs. By moving their muscles, Ratey said they are turning their brains on.
Ratey believes that dance is the best form of exercise.
“Your heart rate is up, and you are challenging your brain to make the right moves,” Ratey said. “You are sculpting your movements to rhythm.”
As far as other forms of exercise, Ratey said: “Being outside is better than being inside. You are better off on a trail instead of on a treadmill. It’s also better if you share the experience. We evolved as hunter-gatherers in groups of 20. It is inbred in our genes to be part of a tribe. The big problem in our digital society today is despite Facebook and other social networks, we are actually less connected.”