Most of us instinctively know that exercise is important for a child’s physical health, but can it also lead to higher academic achievement? This connection has been reported in the past but little hard evidence exists to support the assumption.
To determine if there is indeed a link between physical activity and academic achievement, an investigation led by Josie Booth of the University of Dundee used data from a British study conducted in 1991. For the study, researchers assigned nearly 5,000 11-year-old children to wear an accelerometer for a week, thus gathering and measuring their physical activity.
On average, boys received 29 minutes of moderate to rigorous physical exercise every day while girls only managed an average of 18 minutes. These figures are both far below the recommended 60 minutes per day.
The study found that the more active 11-year-olds did better on standardized tests in math, science and English than those who got less physical exercise every day. In fact, physically active girls performed much better, especially at science, than their peers at age 11 and again at ages 13 and 16 when the next rounds of standardized tests were given.
The results were adjusted to take various factors into account that could affect school performance, such as birth weight and current weight, the socioeconomic situation at home, and whether the mother smoked while pregnant. The results are published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
This finding could prove to be quite important as leading countries attempt to get more girls involved in science. While the study doesn’t conclusively prove that increased exercise is what improved children’s test scores, it’s understandable to think exercise could help with academic achievement. After all, other randomized, controlled tests have shown that physical exercise improves brain function in the elderly and some younger test subjects.
Until Booth’s team can manage a randomized test, parents will have to be satisfied knowing that meeting the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity per day provides a wide range of benefits. This study also places a spotlight on schools that reduce or eliminate recess time for their students.