Exercising While You Learn?

As an aspiring PE teacher, I continue to be inspired and moved by each piece of research that comes out touting the mental and learning benefits of exercise. A lot of people choose to be frustrated — and rightfully so — by the repeated slashing of PE programs in public schools across the country, despite empirical evidence that daily recess and PE help improve test scores, the ability to focus, and emotional/psychological health of students. I’ve gone through the frustration phase and it got me nowhere, so I’m now choosing to stay positive and optimistic that eventually this mountain of evidence will grow large enough that policy makers will have no choice but to take serious action.

pile of papers

So, climbing down from my soapbox…the title of this post is referring to a recent article in the Well section of the NYT entitled, “How Exercise Can Help Us Learn.” The latest conclusions from the studies cited in the article show that (a) when you choose to study (in relation to when, say, a test of knowledge might be), and (b) the intensity of the workout can absolutely impact one’s ability to retain information for use on an assessment.

Please do go ahead and read the article but I’ll try to sum up the findings CliffNotes style:

— Women were given a chapter in a textbook to read. Some of the women sat and read quietly, and some read while performing 30 minutes of vigorous cardio on an elliptical.

— Both groups were tested immediately after they read and also a day later. Given what I’m assuming was a standard recall of information type test, the women that were on the elliptical actually scored worse than the control group on the immediate testing, but the scores were a dead-heat when tested a day later.

Conclusion: If you have a test or a presentation in a few hours, trying to workout and cram at the same time might actually be harmful.


— In another study involving low-intensity biking, results showed that working out while listening to an educational audio tape actually yielded better memory retention than exercising beforehand or not exercising at all.


Conclusion: The low intensity of the exercise is not too much to overwork the brain, whereas high intensity exercise can caused neurological signals to get crossed. The low level physiological stimulation actually primes the brain for learning.


All of this has yet to be proven 100% truth, but for me it’s fascinating. Given that a lot of a typical PE class is done with what I’d classify as “low intensity” exercise, I think this only further validates PE as way to prime the brain for learning in other classes.


What do y’all think? Find any flaws in the study? Is this something you think you’ll pull from when you’re coordinating your week’s workouts?


IT Band Syndrome

About a month ago I self-diagnosed myself with a mild to moderate case of IT band syndrome, and since then I’ve been reading up on it and trying out some treatment methods. Here’s how it started and what I’ve done to treat it.

I’ve never been much of a runner. My Dad is a runner. My best friend is a runner. My wife is a runner. But with an 11 mile Tough Mudder course on the horizon and a, to put it kindly, less than stellar cardio option with P90X (seriously, Tony? some weak ass kickboxing? You’re better than that), I decided to pick up running.

Only a couple runs in, I noticed a really painful trend. Right around the three to four mile mark of every run, almost like clock work, I would start to feel this sharp, stabbing, raw grinding type pain on the outside part of my knee. I don’t want to exaggerate, but I’ve seen those Saw movies and I think I can now relate to what they were going through.


Thinking very rational thoughts at the time — “my Grandma can run 3 miles, suck it up!” — I would do a very sad, sad looking gallop-type run until I reached a respectable 5 mile distance. And then I’d collapse in pain.

Using my strong powers of deduction, I came to the scientific conclusion that something just ain’t right with my knee area.

Googling my symptoms, I realized I was suffering from IT band syndrome. Then I had a conversation with myself that went something like this:

“An IT whatsit?”

“Oh, that’s right, I got a “D” in college anatomy”

“I’ll just Google some more…”

For all you visual learners, this is your IT band:

IT band

And here is your IT band while running:



It’s a long band of inelastic tissue that starts up in the hip, attaches in your glute, and inserts into your patella (knee).

Since I thought tightness was the issue, I focused mainly on stretching and foam rolling (I’ll have links for these at the bottom). I also heard good things about kinesthetic tape and IT band straps, so I bought one of each. Listen, both of these products are great. After feeling searing pain at 3 miles, I put both the tape and the strap on and I immediately went out and ran my first 10k with no pain at all. I thought I had it all figured out.

The next few runs with my tape/strap technique didn’t go so well. The pain wasn’t anywhere near as intense as before, but it was still there — mostly at 5+ miles or with any uphill running.

What I found through the readings was that the tightness and the raw rubbing against the knee isn’t the CAUSE, but rather the result. The actual cause lies in weak glutes, weak hip muscles, or overtraining, or some combination of those. What I needed to do was treat the actual underlying cause — by doing strengthening exercises.

The bulk of the evidence comes from a study back in July of 2000 by Dr. Michael Fredericson. He found statistically significant weakness in the hip abductors of those suffering from IT band syndrome when compared to healthy runners. His 6 week rehab focusing on strengthening the glutes specifically resulted in this finding:

After six weeks of rehabilitation, 22 of 24 athletes were pain free with all exercises and able to return to running, and at a six-month follow-up there were no reports of recurrence.

What did they do, and what can you do to recover?

— It’s not a bad idea to have a formal diagnosis from a physical therapist, but after that I wouldn’t pay the money to keep seeing him or her for treatment.

— Strengthening exercises like these and these. All you need is a thera-band (maybe $5-$10). As always, pay close attention to proper form, the number of reps you should be doing, and how many times a week you can do these exercises.

— Foam rolling. Invest in a $20 foam roller! Seriously, do it. It’s like giving yourself a massage.

— IT band stretches like this:

— Glute stretches like the bridge and the seated glute stretch:

glute-bridge glute1

— Strengthen your core, as well.

— Cross train with biking or swimming…or just rest!

Looking back at the anatomy image and the point of insertion, it really makes sense that stronger hips and glutes is the remedy. If you really have to run, I’d say buy some of the kinesthetic tape or an IT band strap. At the first opportunity, though, start treating the underlying cause. I’m starting my rehab and I’ll give y’all an update on how it goes.

How Long Should Your Daily Workout Last?

For awhile now, the Surgeon General’s recommendation and the general consensus has said 30 minutes a day. That, in turn, sparked the question among researchers and those in the health/fitness profession: can this be broken down into two 15 minute sessions or three 10 minute sessions? And what are the subsequent health and performance ramifications of 1 vs. 2 vs. 3 sessions per day? Well, it seems we are still trying to answer that question.

A recent column in the Well section of the NYT, citing several different studies, basically said the benefits of shorter bouts that add up to 30 minutes are either inconclusive or negligible, when compared to the “traditional” single 30 minute bout.


So for those of you out there wanting some resolution to this — wanting to know the most effective route to better health or a faster mile time or more fat loss or _________ — sorry, but it sounds like there isn’t a definitive answer yet. And there may not be for some time (or ever).

My advice: just do whatever works for you, given your daily schedule and your preference. If you like to break it up into smaller chunks or use those federally mandated 15 minute work breaks to exercise, go for it. If you find it easier to just knock it out in one fell swoop before or after work, go for it. Whatever brings you peace of mind or whatever your schedule dictates — do that.

Whatever you do, give it your all. Be well out there…

Pizza On the Grill

It’s the middle of summer, you love to use that grill of yours, but you’re getting a little burnt out on the usual grill fare. Check out the tips and recipes from the NYT Health columnist on how to make your own mini-pizzas on the grill.


Making your own pizza is fun, easy, often cheaper than ordering out, and you are in control of the ingredients, which is a huge plus for health-conscious and picky eaters alike. Knowing the quality of the ingredients and being forced to make the pizzas smaller in order to fit on the grill (i.e. portion control) are two great ways to eat healthier while still getting the chance to fire up that grill.

Try it out and then come back and leave a comment on how it went, and any pizza grilling tips for other WP’ers out there.

Peanut Butter Banana Protein Shake


If you’re looking for a way to get some additional protein in with your protein powder, follow this video step by step for a delicious peanut butter banana protein shake. Using a high-quality peanut butter and almond milk, you’re bumping up your protein intake in healthy, tasty ways.

Also, I agree with the video maker: if you plan on doing a lot of protein shakes and smoothies, invest in a nice blender. I bought a Ninja model blender a few months ago and it’s been terrific.