Research shows that students who exercise — even a scant half-hour a day — almost immediately show improvement in their school performance. Not only that, but they show fewer signs of depression and they often sleep better at night.
These in part explain why we’ve changed our morning exercise program from twice a week to four times a week. In addition to our Monday and Friday gate run (where students complete a nearly 3-mile run from the Eagle Rock School to the gate at the bottom of our driveway, and back), we’ve now added half-hour exercise programs on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.
When students were asked if they found morning exercise to be beneficial, their responses included:
“I have come to lean on it as a stress reliever.”
“It forced me to push myself.”
“I gained skills.”
“It helped me become more of a leader.”
Although being up, dressed, and ready to exercise at 7:15 am can be challenging for everyone, we’ve framed our morning exercise program around motivational theory to help get students up and ready to go. Self determination theory states that there are three major components to motivation, including: competence, autonomy and relatedness.
By signing up for the same morning exercise activity for a five-week segment, the students are accomplishing all three components. How you ask? By doing the same program repeatedly for five weeks, they’re building competence, in that they’re learning how to perform a skill.
The students accomplish autonomy by being able to perform that skill independently – learning how to do it on their own. And as for relatedness, the students are at one with their fellow exercisers — part of the same group for 5 weeks allows them to build relationships with their fellow exercisers.
In order to appeal to students interests and abilities, as well as to offer as many different exercise options as possible, we asked students if they’d be willing to lead these exercise groups, and they have responded enthusiastically.
These student leaders show up early to set up, and stay late to clean up. They also take attendance and commit to helping their other students learn the skills and build confidence with exercise.
In the past six months, we’ve had student leaders direct a variety of activities, including yoga, basketball, soccer, dance, hiking, high-intensity interval training, fitness and even, running.
We’ve also had student assistants for groups that require a staff presence due to safety concern or expertise — groups like aikido, swimming and climbing.
These student leaders are rewarded simply by being able to build leadership and fitness skills while helping their peers develop knowledge of the benefits of daily fitness.
While getting up early to exercise is constantly a challenge, our students are building skills, abilities, and habits that allow them to possess lifelong health and fitness values and benefits. And as you saw, they even have some fun in the process.