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Morning Exercise Gets Kids' Brains Fired Up For Class

CHICAGO (CBS) -- With obesity rates on the rise for teens, you might think it's a good idea to get them moving.

But there's more to exercise than losing weight.

New studies say there may be a link between exercise and learning.

As CBS 2's Mary Kay Kleist reports, the more kids move, the more they learn.

Naperville Central schedules gym class in the first hour, which includes laps around the track.

The key is to get their heart rate up right before their most difficult classes, says Jeff Yanke, a physical education teacher at the school.

"Anytime you keep it above 160 or higher, that's what you wanna do, that's where the greatest amount of brain growth is gonna happen for yourself," he said.

Educators here say a vigorous workout not only gets the kids in shape, but also improves their academic performance especially for students who struggle with reading and math.

Paul Zientarski started the program in 2005.

"Exercise prepares the brain for learning," Zientarski said.

After gym, the students go to second period English, where they focus for 20 minutes on reading comprehension. Then they take a "brain break." This quick burst of activity is a quick way to refresh and re-focus. Then it's back to the books.

Now, it's on to third period math class. Again, 20 minutes of working problems before the next brain break.

Exercise stimulates nerve cells to grow and connect, according to University of Illinois researchers, who studied the exercise regimen of 9- and 10-year-olds.

The brains of those 20 students after a 20-minute walk were more more active, they found. At Naperville Central over five years, for students in first period PE, reading rose one to two grade levels, and math scores improved 10 percent to 23 percent.

Robbie Hamill is now a Naperville Central senior. He used to struggle with reading.

In freshman year, he joined the program. His mom saw results after just a few months.

"He really feels the energy level, he feels awake," said Mary Hamill. "He feels attentive. And it helps him in his classes. He gets really good grades. We're really proud of him."

Robbie says he learned a lifelong lesson. He works out before school every day.

"I can transfer what I've learned in terms of fitness and schoolwork to college," he said. "And then I can study more in college. And I could do much better in college."

Robbie's grades have improved so much that he's now a member of the National Honor Society.

Naperville North High School is also in the process of implementing this program into its curriculum.

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