Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Physical activity and academic achievement

Academic success is an outcome that most parents see as a high priority and many actively help their children strive to attain it. We are all aware that regular physical activity is good for our health, but recent literature has also linked physical activity to helping youth perform better in school.

There are several theories for why exercise is beneficial for brain function:

  1. Increased blood flow to the brain, which helps feed the brain with nutrients such as oxygen and glucose
  2. An increased level of endorphins lowers levels of stress and anxiety
  3. Improved growth factors that spark learning by increasing the number of brain cells in the hippocampus - the area of the brain that is essential for memory and learning 
Regular exercise has been linked to improved concentration, memory, verbal skills and self-esteem. Findings from available research suggest that physically fit children tend to perform better academically in school compared to those who are overweight or unfit and time spent in physical education classes may improve academic performance.

A study from the University of Illinois found that students performed better on reading comprehension, math and spelling when they had a 20-minute period of physical activity immediately preceding the test.

It may be easy to think that the physical activity a student participates in at school is enough to improve grades, but adding in some extra activities won't hurt. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends finding family activities to participate in as well as encouraging youth to find an activity that they enjoy. By promoting fun physical activity, youth may not only benefit from increased academic potential, they have a greater chance of sustaining healthy lifestyle habits into adulthood.