Students who get extra physical activity may pay more attention in school and do better in subjects like reading and math, a research review suggests.
The study team analyzed data from 26 previously published studies with a total of more than 10,000 children between 4 and 13 years old. All of the prior studies measured the impact of a variety of physical activity programs on academic performance.
The researchers also looked at whether the effect of exercise differed across academic subjects. Although the benefit of physical activity was strongest for mathematics, it was only slightly smaller for other subjects like language and reading, meaning that physical activity benefits learning in all academic subjects.
Physical activity may help kids do better in school by improving behavior, memory and cognitive function.
Exercise influences the brain by increasing cerebral blood flow, which increases the supply of oxygen and nutrients and promotes blood capillaries formation, and increases the neuronal connectivity.
Exercise also includes an important social component that has benefits on mental health.
When kids take time out of the school day for physical activity, whether in dedicated gym classes or by incorporating movement into classroom lessons, students may have an easier time focusing on their classwork and do better in school.
Overall, physical activity appeared to have the biggest impact on keeping kids on task and focused on their work. Students who participated in various experimental exercise programs also did better at math, reading and language lessons than their peers who didn’t participate in these programs.
Exercise had a bigger impact on school performance when it was incorporated into the school day than when it was added as an extracurricular activity.
The experimental exercise programs tested in the smaller studies increased physical activity time from 10 minutes to 60 minutes per day.
Source: Pediatrics, online November 24, 2017.
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