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Cedar Rapids elementary school works heart rate monitors into curriculum

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In a momentary lull in activity during their physical education class on Tuesday, fifth-graders at St. Matthew’s Elementary in Cedar Rapids didn’t stand still. As they waited for the next activity with the giant parachute they were playing with to begin, they did jumping jacks or enthusiastically punched the air.

They were trying to keep their heart rates up, and they could see the results, projected on a wall of the gymnasium.

The students were wearing heart rate monitors on their wrists. Similar to FitBits or other exercise monitoring watches that have become all the rage, the devices from Heart Zones USA digitally record their heart beats and give feedback in real time.

Students could instantly see if they were in the blue zone, with a heart rate consistent with lower activity, the yellow zone for medium or the red zone for high activity. Their goal is spend a certain amount of time in each zone during the class period.

Physical education teacher Heath Mueller, 37, said the small devices have completely changed the class.

“I have never seen them work so hard,” he said. “It’s instantaneous feedback.”

“I’ve seen heart rate monitors since college. They’ve come such a long way,” Mueller said.

“I honestly feel like this is the future of P.E.,” he said. “When you look at individual exercise, this is what it is going to. When they become adults, this is what they’ll use, and they’ll already be comfortable with it.”

Heart Zones USA, the company that supplied the monitors and works with schools across the country, said St. Matthews is the first Catholic school in the nation to use their program and the second elementary school in Iowa.

The school uses the monitors for second- to fifth-graders and is considering expanding to first-graders next year.

Along with keeping track of their physical activities, Mueller has incorporated lessons about heart rate into his curriculum. Kids learn how things like medication, whether or not they ate breakfast and how much sleep they got can affect their heart rate.

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