Although we all know that physical activity is an essential factor in lowering the risk of child obesity, and improving physical fitness, new research is proving that a fit body, can equal a fit mind. In other words, ensuring your kids stay active could be the first investment you make in their college fund.
Findings from the realms of education and biology research hint that regular exercise creates numerous benefits for the brain. Not only can regular workouts in the school gym or on the playground improve learning capacity, attention span, and memory, but it also works to reduce stress, and even combat the effects of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. In short, keeping your kids active could make them smarter.
The reason for this is that learning functions and memory retention are functions in the brain that rely on the growth and nourishment of brain cells, and exercise creates the best environment for that process to occur.
It All Adds Up: Exercise and Math
A recent study suggests that there may be a link between regular participation in physical education, and the mathematics scores that children achieve on standardized tests. The details of the study indicate a correlation between the amount of time students spent taking part in physical activity at school, and the scores they achieved during math-based exams. But the scientifically-backed connections don’t stop here. In fact, various pieces of research over the years have been able to point to the obvious interaction between physical health, and brain function.
The study worked by dividing the elementary schools of the city into separate groups according to level of physical education and exercise opportunities provided to students. At the same time, the researchers examined the recorded math scores for each student within those groups, allowing them to see a connection between both factors. The results showed that the schools offering the highest opportunity for exercise (151 minutes average) often posted higher math scores. In comparison, schools offering an average of 29 minutes of activity showed a lower proficiency rate.
Why the Research Makes Sense
While other studies have shown that academic performance is influenced by various factors, including socioeconomic status and parental involvement, a growing body of evidence has begun to reveal that active children often have a stronger performance in school, particularly in regards to mathematics and reading. The reason for this is simple – physical activity promotes positive mental health, reduces the likelihood of developing risk factors for chronic disease, and helps to build strong muscles, but it also affects academic achievement by enhancing concentration and improving classroom behavior. In fact, certain pieces of research have even suggested that reducing physical education exposure in schools could hinder the academic performance of developing children.
Although researchers aren’t entirely sure at this time what aspects of exercise contribute to better cognitive function, they are learning that it does physically benefit the brain – just as it benefits any other muscle in the human body. After all, increased aerobic exercise helps blood to pump throughout the body, delivering nutrients to organs and muscles. More blood means more oxygen, and therefore, nourished brain tissue.
At the same time, scientists have also suggested that regular exercise could be essential in helping the brain to produce more of a special protein known as the “brain-derived neurotrophic factor“. Otherwise known as “BDNF” this protein is an incredible source of nutrition for the brain, as it encourages the cells to grow, interconnect, and even communicate in brand new ways. Studies are even showing that exercise helps to play a part in the production of new brain cells, particularly in the “dentate gyrus” area, which is heavily responsible for the development of memory skills and learning.
Encouraging Educational Exercise
As more evidence continues to show the intertwining natures of exercise and brain function, it only makes sense that more groups are coming together to advocate the importance of after school activities and physical education in schools. Reports have already begun to suggest that all students should be getting at least sixty minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day, and yet only about half of school-age children are meeting this guideline.
Fortunately, parents may be able to help supplement some of the exercise that kids aren’t getting at certain schools. By supporting physical education classes, classroom breaks and recess, then encouraging children to take part in after-school sports and activity, they can increase the chances that their child will come to think of exercise as a normal, habitual, and important part of life.