All parents and educators want to see their children succeed academically, but when it comes to prioritizing budgets and allocating time, physical fitness often ranks low. Recent research however, suggests we need to rethink this. Most of us understand that daily, vigorous physical activity has many health benefits such as maintaining a proper weight, developing healthy hearts and skeletal muscles, strong bones, and keeping a positive mood, but more studies are also showing that exercise offers powerful benefits for intellectual functions as well.
Exercise scientists have known for a long time that children who are physically fit absorb and retain new information more effectively than children who are out of shape. A study presented this year at the American College of Sports Medicine, found that fourth- and fifth-grade students who ran around and otherwise exercised vigorously for at least 10 minutes before a math test scored higher than children who had sat quietly before taking the exam.
In a study of almost 12,000 Nebraska schoolchildren published in August 2013 in The Journal of Pediatrics, researchers compiled each child’s physical fitness, as measured by a timed run, body mass index and academic achievement in English and math, based on the state’s standardized test scores. Better fitness was linked to significantly higher achievement scores, while body size had almost no role. Students who were overweight but relatively fit had higher test scores than lighter, less-fit children. Finally, according to a new study in the journal PLoS conducted by researchers from the University of Illinois in the United States, 9 and 10year-old children who were in better aerobic condition significantly outperformed a less-fit group. These researchers concluded that higher levels of fitness have their greatest impact in the most challenging situations” that children face intellectually. In other words, the more difficult something is to learn; the more physical fitness may aid your child in learning it.
If children are to develop and maintain the kind of aerobic fitness that amplifies their ability to learn, they should participate in at least an hour a day of vigorous physical activity. Since school is where children spend so many of their waking hours, it makes very good sense that physical fitness programs should be prioritized in schools. If not enough time is allowed during the school day for physical activity, then parents need to ensure that exercise is obtained every day after-school. In the final analysis exercise really also is an academic activity, so I encourage parents to help their children make it a priority in their daily routine.