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Can Physical Activity Improve Your Child's Academic Performance?

Many people underestimate the importance of physical activity in the well being of a child. According to studies, students who get regular physical activity perform better academically. The benefits of exercising often include better attention, memory retention, performance on standardized academic tests, problem-solving skills, enhanced reaction time, creative thinking, and much more. And this applies to college students as well.

If you thought that your child’s academic performance is based solely on the number of hours spent studying, you’re sorely wrong. Academic performance and good grades are a result of multiple factors – everything from the child’s intellect to the environment they are in. And one of the major, mostly ignored, influencing factor is physical health.

Physical activity and health can actually boost a person’s ability to learn. According to the National Academy of Medicine, exercise can improve a child’s cognitive abilities, health, and academic performance significantly.1

Factors That Affect A Child’s Academic Performance

Apart from the IQ level, psychological, social, economic, personal, and environmental factors play a role in education. The effects of these factors vary from person to person and even country to country! Some such elements are:2 3

  • Academic and school attachment
  • Teacher support and teaching style
  • Peer values
  • Mental health
  • Class environment
  • Gender difference
  • Family educational background
  • Parental involvement
  • Socioeconomic factors

How Does Exercise Affect Academic Performance?

Studies show that children who get adequate exercise and are active every day tend to have the following characteristics when compared to less-active children:4 5 6

  • More focused attention
  • Better memory retention
  • Better cardiovascular function
  • Improved fitness
  • Better metabolic function
  • Improved bone health
  • Better problem-solving skills
  • Better performance on standardized academic tests
  • Immediate and long-term improvement in academic performance
  • Better reaction time and creative thinking
  • Increased positive moods

Effect Of Exercise On The Brain

According to a study by the University of British Columbia, regular aerobic exercise enhances the functioning of the hippocampus, the area of the brain involved in learning and verbal memory.7 Other forms of exercise like balance exercises, muscle toning exercises, and resistance training did not have the same result on the brain. Even the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex – parts of the brain that control thinking and memory – were found to be in better health in those who exercised regularly than in the brains of those who didn’t exercise.

The effect of exercise on memory and thinking is both direct and indirect.

  • Directly, regular exercise gives the ability to reduce inflammation, reduce insulin resistance, and stimulate the release of growth factors. These growth factors are chemicals in the brain that affect the growth of new blood vessels, the health of brain cells, as well as the survival of new brain cells.
  • Indirectly, getting enough exercise will improve sleep quality and mood. It will also reduce stress and anxiety.

How Much Exercise Should Students Get?

Children aged between 6 and 17 should get a minimum of 60 minutes of physical aerobic activity daily and adults aged between 18 and 64 should get a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity daily.8

It is believed that the benefits of exercise during the school day exceeds the benefits that come from increasing class time. Furthermore, the greatest cognitive benefits from physical education have been seen to come about when physical education was given either in the first half of the day or midday rather than at the end of the day.

In order to get the children moving, schools should promote steps such as recess, physical education classes, classroom breaks, after-school sports, and biking/walking to school. Physical activity should not be seen as a dispensable option but as a core educational concern.

Do College Students Benefit From Exercise?

The benefits of exercise in terms of academic performance also apply to college students. Physical education is not a part of most universities in the US, but an increasing number of colleges around the globe are introducing it to the curriculum to make youngsters more active.

According to a recent study in the North Carolina State, just an hour of exercise every week can bring about great changes.9 The study involved looking at habits of 21,000 college students. They found that an hour of exercise a week raised the overall GPA by 0.06 points. In students who didn’t exercise at all and then started exercising for 3 hours a week, the GPA was raised by 0.18.

Regular exercise is a vital part of maintaining a healthy body. A healthy body will, in turn, keep your mental capabilities strong and your highest potential for academic excellence can be met.

References   [ + ]

1. Educating the Student Body: Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School. National Academy of Medicine.
2. Becker, Bronwyn E., and Suniya S. Luthar. “Social-emotional factors affecting achievement outcomes among disadvantaged students: Closing the achievement gap.” Educational psychologist 37, no. 4 (2002): 197-214.
3. Singh, S. P., Savita Malik, and Priya Singh. “Research Paper Factors Affecting Academic Performance of Students.”
4. Howie, Erin K., and Russell R. Pate. “Physical activity and academic achievement in children: A historical perspective.” Journal of Sport and Health Science 1, no. 3 (2012): 160-169.
5. Coe, Dawn Podulka, James M. Pivarnik, Christopher J. Womack, Mathew J. Reeves, and Robert M. Malina. “Effect of physical education and activity levels on academic achievement in children.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 38, no. 8 (2006): 1515-1519.
6. Active Education: Growing Evidence on Physical Activity and Academic Performance. Active Living Research.
7. Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills. Harvard Health Publishing.
8. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
9. Sanderson, Heather, Jason DeRousie, and Nicole Guistwite. “Impact of Collegiate Recreation on Academic Success.” Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice (2017): 1-14.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.