Exercise your brain

CanWest News Service
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

The adage about a healthy body leading to a healthy mind is being proven in the classroom

Can't get your kids to concentrate on their homework? Don't nag. Send them out for a quick game of road hockey instead. Researchers report kids perform better academically after working up a sweat than after a day spent sitting in a classroom.

The idea that exercise and academic success go hand and hand is gaining more credibility. To the delight of physical education teachers everywhere, the message is filtering down to school administrators.

Brothers Theo, 11, and Loic Tremblay, 7, play street hockey close to their home in Outremont, last summer. Studies have shown that exercise just before tackling schoolwork can boost children's academic performance. - Phil Carpenter/The Gazette

Can't get your kids to concentrate on their homework? Don't nag. Send them out for a quick game of road hockey instead. Researchers report kids perform better academically after working up a sweat than after a day spent sitting in a classroom.

The idea that exercise and academic success go hand and hand is gaining more credibility. To the delight of physical education teachers everywhere, the message is filtering down to school administrators.

Naperville Central High School, located just outside Chicago, decided to see what would happen if they got some of their underperformers moving. Kids who scored poorly in math or reading went to the gym before sitting down to tackle a series of equations or to read an assigned chapter of their text book.

The results were astounding. Kids who had previously struggled with school work improved their reading skills to the point where they were reading a year and a half above their grade level. Math scores rose by 21 per cent.

This small experiment jives with some of the latest research. Study after study reports, not only that exercise has an immediate effect on test scores, but that fit kids do better in school than kids who don't exercise.

Physical activity, it seems, does more than just strengthen muscles; it strengthens the brain, too. Scientists suggest that kids who exercise regularly solve problems faster than kids who don't. Fit kids are also more attentive and score higher when tested for accuracy.

The evidence is so strong, it's difficult to suggest that more time in study hall is the only answer to better grades. That said, researchers are less clear about exactly how much exercise is needed to turn Cs into As.

One of the first studies to try to pinpoint the exercise prescription necessary to stimulate learning was done in Trois-Rivieres, Que., and published in 1994. It found that children who exercised an hour a day, over and above their regular school gym classes, were more successful academically than students who got their exercise in gym class only.

Other studies suggest that only vigorous activity results in better academic performance, and some suggest girls who exercise receive more scholastic benefit than active boys. As for how much exercise it takes to improve grades, the number varies from as little as 20 minutes a day to as much as 60 minutes. Also, elementary- and middle-school students are more suggestive to exercise interventions than high-school students.

As for organized sport, that, too, has a positive effect on kids' report cards. A January 2010 article in the Journal of School Health reported that the grade-point averages for high-school students who played on sports teams were higher than for those who sat on the sidelines. It also reported that the more teams the students played on, the greater the boost to their GPAs.

This wide spectrum of results is indicative of the complexity of collecting and evaluating exercise habits. Most people are generous when it comes to recounting the amount of time spent exercising. Then there's the difficulty of determining exercise intensity; what's moderate for some is easy for others.

There are less subjective ways to quantify physical activity. Pedometers and accelerometers measure daily activity, but are expensive, especially for large study samples.

Still, there seems to be an agreement among researchers that not all exercise is equal in its ability to improve academic success. Aerobic exercise has proven more effective at boosting kids' test scores than muscular conditioning or stretching. And more exercise produces more dramatic scholastic improvements.

Also interesting to note is that not all academic subjects reap the same benefits from exercise. Math scores seem to respond best to a bout of exercise, compared with other subjects such as English, history or geography.

Armed with the latest research, schools need to look at ways to incorporate more physical activity into the curriculum rather than less. Naperville High School went so far as to equip classrooms with stationary bikes and exercise balls, which allow students to exercise without leaving the classroom.

With that in mind, study hall may want to incorporate a little 4-on-4 soccer, and math class should be scheduled right after gym class.

Parents should also rethink how their kids schedule homework. Take the family out for a bike ride or trip to the park before the kids hit the books after school. And participation in community or school-based sports should be encouraged and thought of as an academic asset, not a deterrent.

Keeping kids attentive and successful in school is the key to long-term academic success. And habits learned early are habits that tend to stick. So get out there with your kids and show them that exercise is not only the way to better health; it's also the way to better grades.

Organizations: Naperville Central High School, School Health

Geographic location: Chicago, Trois-Rivieres

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments