Parents who want their children to bring home better report cards might consider adding exercise to the daily schedule. Researchers discovered kids who get more physical activity do better in school than children who don’t. Academic experts looked at 14 different studies that measure the impact of exercise and mental performance. They found students who exercise more score higher on math, language and memory tests.
Researchers reviewed previous studies on students who participated in extended physical education classes and analyzed reports from students and parents on the amount of exercise received. A study conducted in the U.S. followed a group of second and third grade students who spent an extra 90 minutes per day in physical education class. These pupils not only scored higher on tests than less-active peers, they also kept weight under control over the next three years. Other research projects showed similar results linking increased physical activity and classroom performance.
Scientists believe children who release excess energy through physical activity concentrate better in the classroom. Exercise also increases blood flow to the brain, provoking a sense of well-being. All but one of the 14 studies reviewed showed a correlation between the amount of exercise and school performance. Results from the latest research were published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in January 2012.
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The American Heart Association recommends children get 20 minutes of recess each day and participate in formal physical education class at least two and a half hours each week. Most school children in the U.S. receive less than the suggested amount of exercise weekly. The research shows participating in team sports fails to provide enough activity to increase mental functioning because children spend much of the time inactive while waiting for their turn.
Surveys of U.S. school districts show only six states follow physical education guidelines suggested by the National Association of Sports and Physical Education, which recommends a minimum of 150 minutes each week. When it comes to mandatory recess time, only three states mandate 20 minutes a day for elementary students. Most school districts don’t have formal policies for physical education classes, and those that do have written guidelines often don’t follow them.
Increased focus on academic achievement and improving test scores led some school districts to cut physical activity in favor of more classroom time to meet state and federal testing standards. According to the recent research, these tactics might be counterproductive and decrease a child’s ability to score higher on tests.
Parents can address the lack of exercise at school by increasing the amount of physical activity children get at home. Instead of driving children to school, the youngsters can ride their bicycles to add physical activity to the daily schedule. The physical benefits of exercise have long been recognized, but now science shows it can also make children smarter.