How can we encourage more people to lead active lives, not only in general but also in an educational setting? We know that obesity and health problems are linked to a lack of exercise and we see a clear relationship between leading an active life and better health in general. Both feature a great deal in academia, but a less studied area is the impact of a healthy, active life and movement on educational performance. Academics have studied the relationship between moving and thinking and the results are clear: moving during class improves thinking and learning.
In Dutch primary schools, several kinds of ‘class exercise’ are becoming more common. Besides the one or two hours of gymnastics, children are taken ‘out of their heads into their bodies’ with new and interesting exercises. We find that children who take calculus and language classes at least three times a week while moving around in the classroom score better in maths and languages tests. Already after two years, they are ahead of children with regular training.
These results were shared by Dutch researchers at the ‘Universitair Medisch Centrum Groningen’ and ‘Rijksuniversiteit Groningen’, as part of their experiment ‘Fit & Vaardig Op School’. They also found that kids who joined the moving class ‘Fit & Vaardigles’ performed better in tasks carried out directly after the moving exercise. Future research will test how moving influences school performance, and what are the positive factors in this relationship.
At our institute we have many Master’s students, PhD fellows and researchers who are sitting a lot. But we are seeing more and more innovative furniture in the workplace including standing desks, deskbikes and desk cross trainers that either enable standing while studying or stimulate the circulation of blood while sitting. This movement helps blood and oxygen reach the brain more easily, keeping people ‘sharper’ for longer. Recent studies at the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) even suggest that employees who cycle are able to read computer text up to 30% more quickly than their sedentary counterparts.
Similar developments are, however, rare in higher education programmes. We still offer classroom-based teaching programmes, with teachers explaining a lot and students often sitting inside and listening. PhD fellow Hans-Erik Edsand, coordinator of the ‘Evidence-based Policy Research Methods’ (EPRM) programme, took on the challenge and decided to add a movement activity to the EPRM programme. He launched an innovative teaching method – the walkshop.
“The idea,” said Edsand, “was to allow EPRM participants and PhD fellows to meet and discuss their research interests in an informal manner — i.e., while walking in and around the beautiful city of Maastricht. The fresh air and exercise produce a relaxing environment, which is hard to reproduce in a classroom setting. The walkshop is basically an informal interlude to the regular programme lectures.”
“The route was quite straightforward, walking about 4 km from UNU-MERIT to the top of Sint-Pietersberg, as EPRM participants and PhD fellows shared their research interests, their work in various fields, and the different aspects to consider when developing a research plan. This allowed both sides to meet in a relaxed setting, which in turn helped to form contacts and even tutoring for the research proposal development – an essential part of the EPRM programme.”
“Would I do anything differently? Well, the response to the first walkshop in September 2015 was very positive, but in future I would schedule two possible days, to allow for a late forecast check. Last time we were lucky with only a minor sprinkle during the break on top of Sint-Pietersberg, but a sunny day would add even more energy to the walkshop.”
Flickr / K.Benson; UNU / S.Brodin, H.Pijpers