John Ratey has a book out called Spark! that shares recent findings about an experiment with exercise and the brain.
Apparently, 19,000 students in the Naperville, Illinois, school district and beyond were put on 45 minutes of exercise a day WITH HEART RATE monitors. It resulted in unparalleled happy results. The incidence of violence dropped by 50% in one year and the students' test scores skyrocketed to some of the top in the nation. While most school districts were cutting Phys Ed programs, this school district added it FIRST THING IN THE DAY.
In this experiment they deliberately changed P.E. from centering around team sports—where most of the kids sit on the sidelines watching the few superstar kids—and cutting out the most embarrassing class where they feel MOST rejected—to the daily use of fitness centers with climbing walls, tracks to run on, body recording devices with scientific printouts of their progress and a heart monitor for EVERY child. The minimum P.E. requirement for every student? At least one mile a day. All team sports were changed to very small teams (only four at the most) so that there were actually more movement moments for each player and many more teams. But the major emphasis was on personal fitness—developing a lifetime CONCERN and KNOW-HOW for managing one's own body.
During running exercises, young overweight kids who they thought were losers because they moved so slowly actually were doing terrific because they could see what their heart rates ACTUALLY WERE.
The focus for students’ involvement in P.E. was on topping each individual’s PERSONAL BEST, and not about competition. As a result, the school became electric with better self esteem, happiness, cheering FOR each other, rather than avoiding having to pick losers for their teams, getting off medications for hyperactive and depression conditions, etc.
Further, all of that raising of the heart rate every day was for not so much for the body but for the brain. By training the children to monitor and buy into improving their OWN scores, the children took ownership of WANTING to get more physically fit. "This is YOUR LIFE" was communicated loud and clear. Simply amazing results are documented in the book.