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First-year seminar explores connection between exercise and the brain

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All first-year students take an interdisciplinary gateway seminar (ENG125 or IDS125), in addition to participating in a First-Year Experience (FYE) course. The topic of the seminar is based on a contemporary issue, and students explore that topic from the perspective of more than one discipline.

Julie Carballo, adjunct instructor of education and director of Teach First, teaches an IDS125 course fall term. Its topic is “The Brain-Body Connection: An Interdisciplinary Look at the Impact of Exercise” and focuses on the research of Harvard professor John J. Ratey, M.D., and his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. The seminar has been very popular with first-year students because of its relevance to their various fields of study and personal lives. They’re seeing that exercise improves their learning, mood and attention, and helps them manage stress more effectively.

On Oct. 18, Carballo invited Paul Zientarski (photo), who taught physical education and coached at Naperville Central High School (NCHS) for 40 years and is now a consultant to the school district, to discuss his involvement in Ratey’s research, which examined the effects of regular exercise on learning, stress, anxiety, mood, attention, addiction and aging. NCHS’s revolutionary approach to fitness and learning was a case study in the book.

“We learned that test scores and academic performance increased tremendously when students exercised,” Zientarski said, “and they dipped when student fitness declined.”

In his book, Ratey explores the connection between exercise and the brain and presents surprising research to prove that exercise is the best defense against everything from depression to ADHD to addiction to menopause to Alzheimer’s.

Carballo’s class will make a follow-up visit to NCHS to tour its exercise-related facilities and learn more about the Learning Readiness physical education programs which have improved academic achievement at the school.