In an age when many schools are cutting physical education classes in response to funding issues, and childhood obesity is on the rise, a growing body of evidence reveals that physical fitness has a direct correlation to academic success. In other words, kids need to move in order to learn. Actually, though, it appears to involve more than just a need to move, but an overall condition of fitness. The more fit children are, the higher their academic test scores tend to be.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), childhood obesity has doubled in the past 30 years. For most of us, that number is not too surprising, if we have any powers of observation: there are simply more overweight kids everywhere we look. Of course, the transformation of diet combined with the move to a more sedimentary lifestyle makes these figures actually seem small. Kids simultaneously consume more sweets and sit in front of screens far more than they did 30 years ago. But, what does this all have to do with their success at school? Current research reveals a significant impact.
Exercise = Food for the Brain
Art Kramer, professor of psychology at University of Illinois, contends that today’s more sedentary lifestyle has not only increased the levels of disease such as diabetes and cancer, but also has a significant effect on brain cognition: the activities of learning; including thinking, reasoning, understanding, and remembering. Something as simple as walking three times a week can dramatically increase learning function.
Other research demonstrates that exercise actually increases brain volume, enhancing the memory process. The key in these studies was low intensity activity over a longer period versus short bursts of high-intensity activities.
More than Exercise: Fitness
Although teachers have realized for years that a quick run around the gym helps kids settle in and focus on studies more, current research indicates it is not just the immediate benefits of movement that are important; over physical fitness plays a significant role in knowledge retention.
Take for example a study utilizing a group of 24 fit kids compared with 24 less fit kids. Fitness was determined by time on a treadmill and monitoring oxygen levels, heart rate, and other factors. Children were presented with fictitious maps of non-existent places and told to memorize the names. When tested later, those children who were more physically fit outperformed those who were less fit.
If you think that was just a freak occurrence, consider a report published in The Journal of Pediatrics in August, 2013. A cross-section of data collected from 11,743 students in 47 different schools revealed that students who are aerobically fit have greater odds of passing state math and English tests than those who are not fit, regardless of BMI or access to free lunch programs.
The Bottom Line
If you want your child to do his best in school, you need to do more than encourage him to do his homework or study. Instead, encourage him to participate in a regular form of exercise in order to stay fit. Better yet, get out and do it with him, you might find it benefits you both, not just in the smarts department, but shaping up physically and building great relationships.
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