Can Exercise Make Your Children Smarter?

Traditionally we have always looked at literacy and numeracy exercises as being central to brain development in children. Recent studies however seem to suggest that this is not as black and white as initially thought. It is becoming increasingly apparent that physical exercise is an integral component to brain development in children.

The hippocampus is the part of the brain that is the core of the brain’s memory system. Studies show that it responds positively to aerobic exercise, becoming larger as people grow stronger and fitter. This, in part, explains the link between exercise and a better memory. This conclusion is in line with experiments conducted by German scientists who found that walking or cycling during studying accelerated the rate at which people were able to learn a foreign language.

Attention spans in children are short; and a lack of concentration in class is a common issue among many students. A Dutch study testing pupils in schools found that intermittent 20 minute aerobic exercise during learning drastically improved their attention spans. A German study garnered similar results when testing the attention span of students who were engaging in coordination exercises such as bouncing two balls at the same time when learning, further strengthening suggestions of a positive link between brain health and exercise.

The relationship between physical exercise and academic performance was directly scrutinised in a South Korean study in 2015 that was published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science. 236 students were randomly sampled from three middle schools. Academic achievement was analysed through access to the children’s performance in that years exams, whilst physical fitness was determined according to PAPS, a system provided by the Korean Ministry of Education. The results were conclusive; there was a significant relationship between physical fitness levels and final exam scores. These findings were in line with previous studies undertaken by an Australian research group that had tested ten thousand students, and researchers in California that tested one million pupils.

There are strong indications that there is a positive correlation between exercise and academic performance. Schools should therefore ensure that physical exercise becomes a regular part of their curriculum.

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Filip Alexander