Sun | Apr 22, 2018

Letter of the Day | Exercise crucial to academic health

Published:Monday | July 11, 2016 | 12:00 AM


I have noted the recent discussions about exercise in schools. I would like to highlight the value of exercise as a pill to reduce the effects and costs of non-communicable diseases on our society.

Exercise increases sympathetic activity (the fight or flight response) with the release of neurochemicals. These chemicals increase heart rate in order to increase blood flow, carrying nutrients to the brain and other tissues. These neurochemicals are the same ones we try to mimic when athletes take stimulants, students pop study-aid drugs, and adults consume energy drinks. Why not take the 'exercise pill' to increase blood flow to the brain to improve learning and energy?

So many stories are told of students using various stimulants to increase alertness to stay awake or to enhance learning. Unfortunately, the downside is that stimulants can induce anxiety, and lack of sleep can affect memory and increase the risk of depression.


Encourage our children


Instead of creating addicts, let us encourage our children to enjoy the benefits of healthy living by embracing exercise and a healthy diet. Let them enjoy the benefits of exercise: the increased academic push from increased blood flow with nutrients to improve the learning process, and the rejuvenation that comes from a good night's sleep when the brain cements the concepts studied.

Surely, a way can be found to incorporate exercise in the curriculum, whether through a slot in the timetable or a mandatory extracurricular activity that does not have to take on a competitive edge. Where there is a will, there is a way.


Other benefits


The other benefits from the neurochemicals released during exercise include improved mood, increased energy levels, and stress relief. With the rise in the effects and costs associated with chronic non-communicable diseases, both children and adults would benefit from the effects of exercise, such as a reduction in the incidence of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and depression.

As a pharmacologist, I understand the value of drugs. However, I also recognise the value of doing no harm by utilising lifestyle changes where possible.

A diabetes-prevention study showed that exercise, combined with a healthy diet, can reduce the incidence of diabetes by 58 per cent compared to the drug metformin, which reduces diabetes incidence by 31 per cent. With that comparison, let us embrace exercise and healthy food choices as the vitamins for academic excellence and a healthy, productive society.


Lecturer, Pharmacologist

University of Technology, Jamaica