To Improve Academics, Kids Need to Exercise, Experts Suggest

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

An international group of experts who studied the value of exercise in school-age children are suggesting that in order to do better in school, children need to get out and exercise first.

The new consensus statement published earlier in the week in the British Journal of Sports Medicine states that academic achievement in children and youth is supported by physical exercise before, during and after school.  In addition, it says that exercise and fitness “are beneficial to brain structure, brain function and cognition.”

The group consists of 24 researchers from the United States, Canada, and Europe, who all met last year at the Copenhagen Consensus Conference held in Snekkersten, Denmark to look at the latest scientific and medical research on the benefits of exercise for children between the ages of 6 and 18.  All types of exercise were included in the study, including recess and physical education classes, organized youth sports and outdoor play time, writes Karen Kaplan for The Los Angeles Times.

The consensus statement suggests that despite taking time away from homework assignments and class work, exercise does have benefits to academic performance in children, with even one break from studying for moderate exercise being shown to increase “brain function, cognition and scholastic performance.”

“A single session of moderate physical activity has an acute benefit to brain function, cognition and scholastic performance in children and youth,” they say in their 21-point agreed statement.

“Physical activity before, during and after school promotes scholastic performance in children and youth. Mastery of fundamental movement skills is beneficial to cognition and scholastic performance in children and youth,” they add.

Time-out activities that consider culture and context have also been found to encourage social inclusion.  This is especially true for children of varying ethnicities, backgrounds, skill levels, physical ability, and sexual orientation, writes Katherine Derla for Tech Times.

The experts go on to say that such activity can hold psychological and social benefits as well.  Exercise has been shown to help clear minds, make new friends, and give children additional confidence around adults as well as their peers.

While all sorts of exercise is included in the study, it was found that goal-oriented activities provided the most benefits and promoted “life skills” and “core values” such as respect and social responsibility.

Exercise was also shown to increase physical health, as children who routinely participate in some physical activity were found to have better hearts and lungs and stronger muscles. Experts say that these children are less likely to develop a number of chronic conditions including diabetes and coronary artery disease in their later years.

Researchers suggest that steps be taken to incorporate exercise into everyday life, recommending the use of public spaces like parks, playgrounds, and bike lanes.  They stress that any form of physical exercise can help a child’s physical and mental development, reports Denis Campbell for The Guardian.

The study states that time spent playing outdoors or participating in physical activities has not been shown to affect academic achievement negatively.

“Time taken away from academic lessons in favour of physical activity has been shown to not come at the cost of scholastic performance,” the experts wrote.