04 Sep A healthy mind deserves a healthy body
Woodstock Principal Dr Jonathan Long explores the powerful link between our ability to think and our physical wellbeing.
A shocking report in the press recently really caught my attention. The BBC headline read, “Chronic exposure to air pollution could be linked to cognitive performance.”
A new study from Peking University in China and Yale University in the USA monitored the maths and verbal abilities of people exposed to sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulates smaller than 10 micrometres in diameter. The four-year study involved 20,000 people over the age of 10 – and the results are worrying.
Though not establishing a direct cause and effect between pollution and cognitive performance, the research showed a definite link between the two. It found that high pollution levels led to significant drops in test scores with the average impact equivalent to having lost a year of the person’s education. Air pollution also appears to have a short-term impact on intelligence as well. One of the researchers noted that this could have important consequences for students who have to take exams when pollution levels are high. With 14 cities in India listed among the world’s 20 most polluted this brings the research close to home!
I like to ask Woodstock parents why they chose this school for their children’s education. Quite often parents tell me that one of the reasons was the fact that we are located in a mountain environment with plenty of fresh air and sunshine. Sometimes parents tell me of how their children’s health suffered in polluted city environments. There’s no doubt that an education in this location makes very good sense for a young person’s physical health! In fact, Woodstock’s unique educational philosophy, Eliciting Greatness, refers to the old saying “a healthy mind deserves a healthy body.”
"The problem is that for thousands of years, in the West at least, we’ve seen the brain as really important and the body far less so. We see the brain as the place where intelligence and consciousness exist and the body simply as the vehicle which carries the brain around!"
Our holistic approach to education means that we take physical well-being just as seriously as we do the mental, spiritual and emotional aspects of wellness. After all, the physical body is the channel through which so many aspects of a child’s development are mediated and nurtured. Achieving physical health and vitality through balanced diet, exercise, fresh-air and healthy living is just as important as studying hard and working on grades.
The problem is that for thousands of years, in the West at least, we’ve seen the brain as really important and the body far less so. We see the brain as the place where intelligence and consciousness exist and the body simply as the vehicle which carries the brain around!
Professor Guy Claxton is Emeritus Professor of the Learning Sciences at the University of Winchester and he has challenged these beliefs through his research and writing. He puts it bluntly – the physical body constitutes the core of our intelligence. In other words, there is a very powerful link between our ability to think and our physical wellbeing. In his recent book, Intelligence in the Flesh: Why Your Mind Needs Your Body Much More than It Thinks, Professor Claxton shows how an appreciation of the body’s intelligence can enrich all aspects of our lives.
The implications of this for our children’s development are significant. It means that we think differently when we are fit and well compared to when we are unfit or unhealthy. It suggests that everything from the food we eat to the air we breathe influences our intelligence and our cognitive abilities. It’s easy to believe that an education in the beauty of nature and in fresh forest air is good for our children’s health – if Professor Claxton is right, it’s probably good for their intelligence too!
Dr Jonathan Long, Principal, Woodstock School