Physical activity can boost the academic performance of children, a new UK study has now found.
Published in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports, the research was carried out by sports scientists at Nottingham Trent University and Loughborough University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, and the study is the first to look at the effects of high intensity, sprint-based exercise on cognitive function in older children.
The team recruited 44 12-year school pupils and asked them to complete 10 x 10 second sprints interspersed by 50 seconds of walking, before completing classroom-based cognitive function tests. For comparison purposes the pupils also completed the cognitive function tests without exercise as part of a ‘resting trial’.
The test results showed that despite pupils reporting physical tiredness on a mood questionnaire, academic response times in one part of the cognitive test, known as the ‘Stroop’ test, were around 5 percent faster after exercise, and were just as accurate.
And not only was the effect immediate, it also remained for 45 minutes after the exercise had been completed.
“This is of particular interest, given that bursts of high intensity exercise, interspersed with rest, is an activity pattern which is common among adolescents,” commented lead researcher Dr Simon Cooper before adding, “Our findings are of great importance to schools, demonstrating the importance of PE in the curriculum, and support the inclusion of high-intensity sprint-based exercise for adolescent pupils during the school day.”
Although the study only looked at a small sample of students, it is not the first to find a link between exercise and academic performance.
A previous UK study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, monitored the physical activity levels of nearly 5,000 children at age 11 and assessed their academic performance in English, math and science at the ages of 11, 13, and 16. The results showed that the more physically active children were at 11, the better they performed across all three subjects and at all three assessed ages.
A 2014 Finnish study also found that significant physical activity can increase boys’ academic performance, while a team of international experts from the UK, Scandinavia, and North America published a consensus statement earlier in 2016 that in addition to its physical health benefits, exercise boosts brain power and academic performance in children and young people, concluding that time taken away from academic subjects in order to take part in physical activity is time well spent for children, increasing rather than reducing their chances of achieving higher grades.
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