Combatting depression with spin at PTHS

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An estimated 3.1 million adolescents between ages 12 and 17 have had at least one major depressive episode, according to a 2016 National Institute of Mental Health study. 

With such pressures continually put on the younger generation, two Port Townsend High School teachers are looking to offer a healthy outlet for students in the next school year.

Having nearly a decade between them in the exercise of spin and instructors at Evergreen Fitness, the pair of teachers, Tom Gambill, an English, history and yearbook teacher, and Jennifer Kruse, a health teacher and recent Golden Apple winner, will trade off as instructors throughout the week.

“Every day there is information coming out about the very strong link between exercise and mood,” Gambill said.

She remembering a study showing last year's 10th graders have tested the highest ever for depression than ever before. 

“As teachers, we know that students, now more than ever, are challenged,” Gambill said. “They are challenged to stay positive. We want to give them a healthy alternative for managing stress.”

Reading the book “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain” by John Ratey was a turning point for Gambill's view on fitness. From the text, Gambill learned regular exercise outperformed antidepressant medication, which has a slew of negative effects. 

“It's the first book that got me the idea,” Gambill said. Just a few points Gambill was informed about in his reading was how there was a direct link between exercise and cognitive function, helping those who regularly exercise learn, and have an impact on how the body repairs and handles stress, among many other facts supporting the axiom of the exercises' benefits.

By promoting this class, Kruse hopes to target students who do not take part in sports but still need a physical outlet to get out stress and stay fit. They also look to attract those who might not consider themselves athletes, but have a desire to discover their “inner athlete,” described Gambill. 

“Those kids are the ones who I'm most interested in,” he said, “who aren't on a sports team, they don't see themselves as athletes and can benefit the most from the mood lift that comes from exercise.”

Set to upbeat music, sometimes geared toward the demographic of the class, spin mimics an outdoor riding experience throughout the 45 minute class. 

“Research shows that regardless of which exercise you're getting, you need to have two or three days per week when you're getting within that cardio range,” Kruse said.

Kruse also looks to help teenagers build a routine of exercise that they can follow throughout their lives. 

“There are a lot of students who don't have that,” she said.

A spin class, or any other physical education class outside of the mandated curriculum, has not been offered at Port Townsend High School. Gambill added this is a more practical approach to exercise students will find outside of high school, where they may rely on PE class for those opportunities to get fit. Spin in particular is alluring since it is an individual activity, giving them the ability to tailor their exercise to their needs. 

“That individualized piece is a good part of spin,” Kruse said.

As spin instructors, both high school teachers could attest to the impact the exercise session has on their students. 

“We've seen in our lives and those who have joined our class have had a tremendous impact on their general well-being and mood,” Gambill said. “Those people who stick with it and get past the two or three week mark will start to start to notice feeling good and more energetic. It's the perfect medicine for them.”

As a zero hour class, enrolled students will pick up a PE credit for showing up to work about three to four times per week. Taking place at about the early hour of 6:45 a.m., it will give the students an energy boost for better focus for the remainder of their day.

During informal polls taken in his class, Gambill said about 60 to 70 percent would be interested in taking the class if PE credit was given. Kruse said the class would fit in with the goals of the school district to cater to its wellness policy. 

Though the class has been approved for the next school year, there is still a need for more bikes. Kruse and Gambill asked for any members of the public who would like to support the program to either donate a bike or money to purchase more. 

So far, four bikes and commitments for two more have been donated by members of the community. Kruse invited those who cannot contribute money to show their support by contacting the school district to tell them this is one welcome option that they would like to see.

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