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Daily Do

How Does Exercise Improve Our Health?

Biology Crosscutting Concepts Is Lesson Plan Life Science Phenomena Science and Engineering Practices Informal Education

Sensemaking Checklist

Welcome to NSTA's Daily Do

Teachers and families across the country are facing a new reality of providing opportunities for students to do science through distance and home learning. The Daily Do is one of the ways NSTA is supporting teachers and families with this endeavor. Each weekday, NSTA will share a sensemaking task teachers and families can use to engage their students in authentic, relevant science learning. We encourage families to make time for family science learning (science is a social process!) and are dedicated to helping students and their families find balance between learning science and the day-to-day responsibilities they have to stay healthy and safe.

Interested in learning about other ways NSTA is supporting teachers and families? Visit the NSTA homepage.

What Is Sensemaking?

Sensemaking is actively trying to figure out how the world works (science) or how to design solutions to problems (engineering). Students do science and engineering through the science and engineering practices. Engaging in these practices necessitates that students be part of a learning community to be able to share ideas, evaluate competing ideas, give and receive critique, and reach consensus. Whether this community of learners is made up of classmates or family members, students and adults build and refine science and engineering knowledge together.


Many of us have heard that exercise—in addition to improving our health—can reduce stress. But amidst these incredibly troubling times, adding exercise to the daily routines of our students and their families, and even our own routine, might feel impossible. What might it take to convince everyone to drop everything and take a walk?

Today's task, How does exercise improve our health?, engages students and their families in science and engineering practices and uses the thinking tools of patterns and cause and effect (crosscutting concepts) to help them figure out if walking just 10 minutes each day can improve our physical and mental health.

Children walking down a path

Teenagers walking on a sidewalk

Planning an Investigation

Tell students, "I've read that walking at a moderate pace for 10 minutes each day can improve your health and your mood. What kind of data might we collect to find relevant evidence to support this claim?" Students might say (with teacher responses) the following:

  • Write down how you feel. Would you say a little bit more about this? Do you mean record your mood? What choices might you use: Good or bad? Happy or sad? Should there be more than two choices? Why do you say so? When would you record your mood?
  • How out of breath you are. When would you record how breathless you are? During the walk, after the walk, much after the walk? Why do you say so? (Note—You might introduce the ideas of measuring resting heart rate and heart-rate recovery time: See below.)
  • How far you can get in 10 minutes. How might you measure the distance you walked qualitatively? (Number of blocks walked/number of houses passed) Quantitatively? (Use an app on your smartphone/use a map.)You might use this opportunity to introduce your students to using a map scale.
  • Measure yourself. What measurements might you make? (Weigh yourself, make body measurements like the size of your waist.)
  • What you eat. Would you say more about that? (How much you eat each day. What you choose to eat each day—maybe you won't want to eat junk food.)

Say, "All of these types of data could serve as the basis for evidence that walking 10 minutes a day improves your health and your mood. Why might it be a good idea to collect more than one type of data?" (We need to collect mood data and health data, so that's two at least. Some changes might take longer to notice, so maybe we should collect different kinds of data to make sure we can notice a change.)

Next ask, "What might we have to keep the same every day to make sure our tests are fair? That is, how will we be able to compare our data over time and compare our data with one another to look for patterns that could be used as evidence that walking 10 minutes each day at a moderate pace improves our health and our mood?" Students might say the following:

  • We should record our mood at the same time each day.
  • We should walk the same path every day so we know that if we go further, it's not because the path was easier/all downhill.
  • We should measure our "out-of-breathness" the same way. (How do we measure "out-of-breathness" if we don't feel breathless after a few days?)
  • We all need to walk at a moderate pace.

Say to students, "Let's start by defining a moderate pace or a moderate- intensity walk." Share with students that athletes use a talk test to categorize the intensity of their physical activity.

  1. If you can talk and sing while exercising without running out of breath, you're exercising at a low intensity.
  2. If you can talk, but can't sing more than a few words without running out of breath, you're exercising at moderate intensity.
  3. If you can't say more than a few words without having to pause to breathe, you're exercising at a high intensity.

Tell students, "Walking at a moderate pace might not look the same for all of us. Use the talk test to determine what a moderate pace is for you. You might adjust the pace a little bit faster or little bit slower if you want to walk as a family."

Resting Heart Rate and Heart-Rate Recovery Time

Say to students, "We had questions about measuring 'out-of-breathness.' Measuring resting heart rate and heart-rate recovery time can help us quantify 'out-of-breathness.' We can use both the quantitative and qualitative data to look for patterns that might help support the claim that walking 10 minutes each day improves our health and our mood."

Note: Show all students how to measure resting heart rate and heart-rate recovery time. It is acceptable if some students ultimately choose to collect distance-walked data instead.

Materials: Any device that can measure seconds


Say to students, "Your resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute while you're at rest." For children ages 10 years and older, a healthy resting heart rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute (the rate is higher for younger children); for adults, the range is between 60 and 80 beats per minute. Generally speaking, the lower your resting heart rate (within the healthy range), the more fit you are.

Tell students how to measure their resting heart rate:

  1. Place two fingers on your wrist below the thumb (see image at right).
  2. Apply gentle pressure to your wrist until you can feel a slight beat against your fingertips.
  3. Count how many beats you feel in 15 seconds.
  4. Multiply that number by 4 to get number of beats per 60 seconds (beats per minute).

You might suggest that students measure their resting heart rate multiple times and find the average.

Pulse from Wrist


Heart-rate recovery time is a measure of how long it takes your heart to return to your resting heart rate after exercising. As your fitness improves, your heart-rate recovery time becomes shorter.

Measuring heart-rate recovery time requires students to engage in a high-intensity physical activity for two minutes (see talk test above). Consider asking students to get their family's approval before measuring their recovery heart rate. Some high-intensity physical activities students might choose include these:

  • jumping rope
  • hoola-hooping
  • jumping jacks
  • running in place
  • stepping on and off a stair (up right foot, up left foot, down right foot, down left foot, then repeat)

Kids doing jumping jacks

Tell students how to measure their heart-rate recovery time:

  1. Exercise at a high intensity for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. You may want to set a timer or have someone watch the time for you.
  2. As soon as you stop moving, measure your heart rate using the same procedure as you did when measuring your resting heart rate. Record your heart rate in beats per minute.
  3. Continue to measure and record your heart rate every minute for 5 minutes. (Note: If your heart rate has not returned to your resting heart rate after 5 minutes, continue to measure and record your heart rate every minute until you reach your resting heart rate.)

Say to students, "We don't have to measure our resting heart rate and heart-rate recovery time every day. These measurements could be made once a week."

Guide students to choose the types of data they will collect. Encourage them to collect at least one type of data they can quantify (resting heart rate, heart-rate recovery time, distance walked, body measurements, etc.)

All students should keep a log of their walks (dates, time, weather, duration of walk). You might consider sharing a walking log with them or asking them to create a walking log in their science notebooks.

Ask students to create a data table(s). Students' data tables will vary depending on the types of data they choose to collect. You might ask them to create their data table(s) on a Google doc and share the link with you, or draw the table(s) and e-mail a picture or text so you can provide feedback. Student data tables might include (with suggested feedback) the following:

  • Mood. What do you plan to record? Happy or sad? Good or bad? Have you thought about what counts as a good mood? Bad mood?
  • Resting heart rate and heart-rate recovery time. Do you want to collect just resting heart rate data or both resting heart rate and heart-rate recovery time? What are the units? How often will you collect the data?
  • Distance walked. How do you plan to measure the distance you walked? Will you compare every day's walks to the first walk? (+ 1/2 block, + 1 block, + 1 1/3 block, etc.) If using an app, what are the units? If using a map, what are the units?
  • Body measurements. What measurements do you plan to make? How often will you collect the data?
  • Food amount/change in food. How will you measure the amount of food you eat? The number of servings of each food? What will you count as a "change" in food?

Once students have created their data table(s), ask them to begin their investigation!

NSTA Collection of Resources for Today's Daily Do

NSTA has created a How does exercise improve our health? collection of resources to support teachers and families using this task. If you're an NSTA member, you can add this collection to your library by clicking Add to My Library, located near the top of the page (at right in the blue box).

Check Out Previous Daily Dos From NSTA

The NSTA Daily Do is an open educational resource (OER) and can be used by educators and families providing students distance and home science learning. Access the entire collection of NSTA Daily Dos.


This task is inspired by an activity described on Arizona State University's Ask a Biologist (Exercise For Your Brain) website.

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