Physical activity is known to improve children’s physical fitness and lower their risk of obesity. New research suggests physical activity may also help children perform better in school. Dutch researchers reviewed 14 previous studies from different parts of the world that looked at the relationship between physical activity and academic performance. Their review is published in the journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
The data from the studies “suggests there is a significant positive relationship between physical activity and academic performance,” wrote the authors, led by Amika Singh of the Vrije Universiteit University Medical Center’s EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research in Amsterdam.
The authors, citing previous research, said regular physical activity seems to be linked to better brain function. The effect on the brain could be the results of a number of factors, including increased flow of blood and oxygen to the brain as well as higher levels of chemicals that help improve mood.
Physical activity has a direct impact on the behaviour and development of the brain. An essay by Charles Basch of Columbia University summarised how physical activity can improve brain function:
According to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), physical activity has an impact on cognitive skills such as concentration and attention, and it also enhances classroom attitudes and behaviours, all of which are important components of improved academic performance.
A study from the University of Illinois showed that children who are physically fit are more likely to perform better in school and achieve higher grades.
Children participating in the study were given electroencephalograms (EEGs) to measure brain waves and how fast the brain responds to certain stimuli. Researchers found that the brain synapses of physically fit children fired faster and stronger, and as a result those children had better language skills.
The more physically fit children were not only better at reading, they were also better at reading passages with several grammatical errors. The researchers looked at the brainwave patterns that deal with language and the ability to spot errors in grammar. The fit children had strong results with both brain wave groups, and a better understanding of nonsensical or error-filled sentences.
At the Copenhagen Consensus Conference 2016, which gathered 24 researchers from eight countries and from various academic disciplines, physical activity was also found to boost brain power and academic performance, among other benefits.
The consensus statement, which was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, lists the reasons why physical activity is beneficial for children and adolescents aged 6-18.
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