How Do Olympic Athletes Keep Getting Better?

Relay raceLast August we all watched in awe at the XXXI Olympiad in Rio. As Katie Ledecky once again broke the world record for the 800 meter freestyle, we couldn’t help but wonder: how do we keep getting faster? 100 years ago, the world record for women’s 800 meter freestyle was 13 minutes. Last August, Katie Ledecky shaved about 5 minutes off of that time.

In his TED talk, David Epstein shed a lot of light on this phenomenon. He argued that it’s not humans that are evolving. Rather, it’s the games themselves.

Huge Leaps Forward

Epstein shares a graph that illustrates huge leaps and bounds in swim times throughout the years. He correlated those to new developments in methodology, tech, and engineering. For example, when the flip turn was incorporated into swim races, it cut off a significant amount of time in the world record. Additionally, new developments in swimwear allow swimmers to cut through the water and move more effectively.

Wider Access Makes the Field More Competitive

One major reason for the growth and development of athletes in general is the way that access to the sporting world has grown hugely in the last hundred years. Today, athletes are professionals, not amateurs who train in their free time. Today, access to athletics is available for more women, for more races, and for more socioeconomic groups. Between that and the growing population, we have a much larger group from which to choose our best and brightest athletes. After all, who’s better: the best of 100 people, or the best of 5,000?

The Rio games this year illustrated this development dramatically with our American women. They absolutely dominated, and many attribute that to the wider access that women have to sports over other countries and locations.

Sports Psychology Teaches Us To Test the Boundaries

The final big reason for the constant improvement of our athletes is harder to put your finger on. It has to do with the mental limitations that we put on ourselves. This was most dramatically and memorably illustrated by the shattering of the four minute mile. In 1945, the world record for running a mile was held by Gunder Hagg, who completed it in 4 minutes and 1.3 seconds. For almost 10 years, it was believed that humans had gone as far as they could go; there was no way to conquer a mile in less than four minutes.

It could be due to this psychological barrier that so many people made it their goal to defeat the four minute mile. In 1954, Roger Bannister completed a mile in 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds. Only two months later, another athlete broke this barrier, Australian John Landy. Since then, the four minute mile is the standard for world-class runners, although it’s left the common vernacular since sports shifted to the metric system.

However, this incident illustrates an interesting point: sometimes, the biggest barrier to achievement is psychological. Sports psychologists work with athletes to help them push the boundaries of the human body. Any marathon runner will say that the race is just as much a mental feat as a physical one.

Exercise Science

For those fascinated (as we are) with the amazing feats of the human body, as demonstrated through Olympic athleticism, Exercise Science may be an optimal field of study to pursue.  To get you on the right track, Carone Learning’s Exercise Science course covers aspects from the physiology of body systems  and analyzing biomechanics to sports psychology and nutrition.  Learn more today!

Set Healthy Back to School Habits

StudentA new school year is well underway and our kids are out there being busy and productive (…hopefully). As you are establishing a school time routine, it’s the perfect time to set some goals for both ourselves and our children. The way that your child eats, the amount of sleep that he or she gets, and whether or not there’s exercise incorporated into the day can all make a huge impact on your child’s performance in school, not to mention their health and happiness.

Here are some tips for healthy habits to make the school year a success:

Prepare Healthy Lunches

This undertaking often consumes more time than we like to spend in the evening, but a healthy lunch can make a huge difference in your child’s day. Have your kid help you to pick healthy, appealing options, and take extra time to prepare or cook something exciting. It could be anything from leftover dinner to a fun and unique veggie salad.

Have Healthy Breakfast Options

One of the biggest ways that excess sugar sneaks into our diets is through our breakfast foods. This sets a pattern for the rest of the day, causing us to crave sugar to maintain our energy levels, when actually, healthy protein, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables are usually the best way to go.

Start checking the sugar content for many common breakfast foods, like yogurt, granola bars, juice, and pastries. Just a glass of orange juice and a granola bar can exceed your child’s recommended sugar allowance for the entire day! Fortify your kids with oatmeal, omelettes, or fruit smoothies.

Incorporate Play and Physical Activity Into Their Day

Whether or not your child’s school has recess, or a physical education program, it’s up to you to encourage your child’s physical play time. The CDC recommends that children and adolescents get 60 minutes of physical activity every day. This can include sports, climbing, running, biking… just about anything. Physical activity helps your child focus and improves healthy brain development in addition to keeping them physically fit. If you don’t think that your child is getting the physical education that they need, take a look at our home-study courses. They’ll help your child get active, and get school credit at the same time.

Set Specific Bedtimes

In order to perform his or her best, your child needs a set amount of sleep each night. Even more than that, they need a steady pattern that their body can adjust to in order to promote better, more restful sleep. Set a specific bedtime for your kids, and don’t waver on it. Encourage them to finish homework long before that time so that you can maintain a steady pattern.

We know all of this is easier said than done. But, as they say, nothing worth doing is really easy. Set an example for your children by prioritizing health and wellness this year.

Physical Activity Contributes to Better Grades

AcademicsOver the last couple of decades, budget cuts have hit our physical education classes in public schools hard. The idea is that cutting these programs will leave more time for academic studies, and therefore, improve test scores.

Unfortunately, this short-sighted practice has had the opposite effect. It’s crippling our students; not only physically, but also academically.

Evidence Shows that Activity is Beneficial to Grades

The fact that exercise improves health isn’t something most people bother disputing. It’s obvious that physical activity protects against common health problems plaguing Americans: anything from high blood pressure to gum disease. However, an oft-overlooked benefit of exercise is its ability to improve cognition. Here are a few select examples from a large body of academic and professional studies that show the mental benefits of exercise for students:

  • Think your child is fine because he or she isn’t overweight? Well, they could still be at a disadvantage from lack of physical activity. A study published in the Journal of American Pediatrics in August of 2013 tested children on both fitness tests and academic standardized tests. It was found that regardless of size, those who scored higher in fitness also scored higher in academics.
  • Elementary-aged children with a physical education program integrated into their classrooms scored significantly higher over a four-month period on tests measuring fluid intelligence.
  • One study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine found that children who were given 10 minutes to run around before a test scored higher in said test than children who were told to sit quietly for 10 minutes beforehand.
  • One study of after-school programs found that periods of sustained play could improve children’s ability to memorize information and block out distractions while learning.
  • A study at Dartmouth, published in Frontiers of Psychology in June 2014 found that it only took 12 minutes of exercise for children to improve in reading comprehension and visual focus.

Increasing a student’s physical activity isn’t just good for health, it’s good for grades!  Schools and parents that understand these principles and support physical education and fitness programs will be more apt to see positive results in a students physical, mental, and academic well being.

Find Your Thing

Dance classMany studies have found that children who participate in physical activity (including school-mandated physical education classes) are twice as likely to lead healthy, active lifestyles when they grow up to adulthood.

The big question is, how do we motivate children to be active?

In a world where so much sedentary entertainment is available (video games, computer programs, social media, and television), how can we make physical activity more appealing?

We here at Carone learning believe that the first step is just getting kids to try more.

This may seem too obvious to even mention, but we’re more likely to sustain certain habits if we enjoy them! The problem is that few people put this principle to work when it comes to physical fitness. In fact, often we believe that if we are enjoying it, we’re probably not doing a good enough job. The truth is, physical activity–especially for children!–should be an enjoyable activity, not a chore. Limiting ourselves to thinking that exercise is just about weight machines and treadmills robs us of the most beneficial effects of exercise.

Here are some suggestions for physical education activities that have the power to persist through to adulthood:

  • Team sports: Sports like soccer and basketball have numerous health, social, and mental benefits. For one thing, we’re more motivated to succeed when we have healthy peer pressure and a team who relies on us performing our best. For another, team sports build interactive skills in children. Although many people drop sports as they grow to adulthood, most communities have sports programs that welcome adult players.
  • Dance: When we’re young, we’re natural dancers. While dance can be a field in which anxiety and pressure tend to be compounded, dance is also one of the most common exercises that we persist in as we grow to adulthood. A love of movement, dancing, and expression can translate into a lifelong healthy habit.
  • Outdoor activities: While many children are unwilling participants in activities like hiking, family memories with parents often have the power to come back in a good way as they get older. If you want to spark a love of the outdoors in your children, consider different activities that can be challenging and stimulating for them; things like open water swimming, rock climbing, and boating. Additionally, consider turning hikes into something more like “nature walks” of exploration, in which kids can climb trees, identify plants and animals, and blaze their own trails.
  • Independent sports: For kids who don’t seem to connect to team sports like baseball and soccer, consider introducing them to more independent sports. Things like tennis, golf, and swimming can all strike a deep chord in children who like the challenge of competition, but don’t like the pressure of a team. Additionally, many independent sports like skiing, snowboarding, rollerblading, or skate boarding, can be done for fun, with no connection to competition.
  • Martial arts: What’s great about martial arts is that it’s not just physically demanding and challenging enough to develop significant skills in focus and discipline… it’s also undeniably cool. Most kids will love the atmosphere and the cultural exploration that comes with martial arts.

Our phys ed programs help children explore different avenues of physical health that aren’t usually covered in standard school curriculum. Your children have the freedom to explore and find that thing that will work for them; something that they’ll love, be motivated to do, and persist in for a lifetime of health and fitness.

Contact us today to learn more about our programs!

The Outdoors are Calling

Woman walking outside with her dogSummer is the natural time to go outdoors more. Plants are in full bloom, the days are long, and the weather is good. However, many parents worry because during the summer, their kids are inside even more than they are during the school year. The call of videogames and television are hard to compete with.

Being outdoors has amazing benefits, both mental and physical. Recent studies are finding surprising effects from even just a patch of grass. Consider taking a PE class during the summer to encourage your child to get outside and be active. Continue reading “The Outdoors are Calling”

Some Suggestions for Getting Active this Summer

Four boys ready for outdoor funSummer gives us a million opportunities to get outside and get active. Are you taking advantage?

The beauty of summer is that you find yourself exercising in ways that don’t FEEL like exercise. It’s the perfect time to introduce your kids to some new activities and see what they find a passion for. Here are some ideas for summer activities that will get you moving! Continue reading “Some Suggestions for Getting Active this Summer”