Endorphins – the natural Ritalin

I saw John Medina (author of the fascinating book Brain Rules) speak at a state teacher’s conference a few year ago.  He said something then that has remained with me to this day.  There are 4 questions that motivate us to pay attention:

  1. Can it eat me?
  2. Can I eat it?
  3. Can I mate with it?
  4. Have I seen it before?

We need to activate these’ basic motivators in order to harness people’s full attention.  We have to do this every 10 minutes or we’ve lost them.  If we aren’t getting their pulse racing a little bit, we’re not getting their full engagement.

Let’s make one thing abundantly clear, though.  Fear inhibits learning.  If your students fear you – if they fear the consequences of being wrong, of making a mistake, you and your ego are getting in the way of their learning.

“There is no greater anti-brain environment than the classroom and cubicle” – John Medina, Brain Rules


wallowing in endorphins...

wallowing in endorphins...

About 15 – 20 minutes into period of vigorous exercise, one experiences an intoxicating sensation of bliss and clarity.  Wikipedia explains this phenomenon as well or better than I can:

Endorphins (“endogenous morphine”) are endogenous opioid peptides that function as neurotransmitters.[1] They are produced by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus in vertebrates during exercise,[2] excitementpainconsumption of spicy food and orgasm,[3][4] and they resemble the opiates in their abilities to produce analgesia and a feeling of well-being.

Sign me up!

Brain Rules also says:

Exercise improves cognition for two reasons:

Exercise increases oxygen flow into the brain, which reduces brain-bound free radicals. One of the most interesting findings of the past few decades is that an increase in oxygen is always accompanied by an uptick in mental sharpness.

Exercise acts directly on the molecular machinery of the brain itself. It increases neurons’ creation, survival, and resistance to damage and stress

While I’m sitting at a computer screen writing this, I’m wishing I was outside right now.  Running.  Wallowing in endorphins and oxygen.

I’m considering keeping a bowl of chips and some salsa handy in my classroom.  Every 10 minutes – “ok, salsa break!”.  Billy, you’re bored? Have a habanero!”

The least I could do is to take my students out for a vigorous hike to explore nature.  When I’ve done this, I can almost see the endorphins dancing in their eyes.  They don’t understand this but they do understand that they like the way they feel and they enjoy the learning that follows.

Wanna get the kids off ritalin?  Maybe we just need a few treadmill desks in the classroom.  Or maybe, just maybe, we need to build adventure and exercise into the school day.

Photo used under cc license courtesy of aarmono’s flickr stream

3 thoughts on “Endorphins – the natural Ritalin

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Endorphins – the natural Ritalin | Wisdom Begins with Wonder -- Topsy.com

  2. Wow, what a coincidence.

    I had to attend a 3 hr orientation for our clinical students this morning. I had to talk at the 2:50 (at this point, we were 20 minutes behind schedule) mark & opened with Medina’s comments about people having an attention span of 10 minutes. Probably irritated the orientation planner…

    As Medina suggested, I switched gears with a story…they laughed. But, I’m guessing they still didn’t pay much attention to what I had to say.

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