A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that time spent in physical exercise classes doesn’t detract from elementary school students’ ability to excel in the classroom and may help to improve girls’ academic performance. Schools in America are cutting down on physical education programmes and this study indicates that this be detrimental to test scores.
Researchers tracked the reading and math skills of more than 5000 students between kindergarten and fifth grade on a series of standardised tests. Using this public data, it was shown that girls who received the highest levels of physical education or 70-300 minutes a week scored consistently higher on test than those who spent less than 35 minutes a week. No significant change was shown in the academic achievement of boys but it was thought that a higher level of physical activity may be needed to reach similar results as boys are found to be more active than girls. The authors of the study believe that physical education is linked to academic achievement for both physiological and behavioural reasons, for example, in addition to increased blood flow to the brain, physical activity can also foster positive classroom behaviours.
Exercise improves thinking, reduces diabetes risk in overweight children, Medical College of Georgia, 22/10/07 by Toni Baker.
A study which looked at 200 overweight inactive children aged 7-11 showed that 3 months of daily vigorous physical activity improved their thinking and reduced the risk of diabetes. The participants learned about health, nutrition and the benefits of physical activity. One third exercised for 20 minutes after school and another third exercised for 40 minutes. The children managed to raise their heart rates to 79% of its maximum capacity. Functional magnetic reasonance imaging studies, which shows the brain at work, were performed and showed that those who exercised had different patterns of brain activity during an executive function task i.e. in decision making. The researchers believe that regular exercise may be a means of enhancing cognitive and academic development. It was also shown that insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes in overweight children, may occur by increasing levels of regular aerobic exercise. This is regardless of sex or race.
Physical activity and enhanced fitness to improve cognitive function in older people without known impairment, News Medical, 17/04/08.
A study at the University of Applied Sciences in Utrecht looked at 11 randomised controlled trials of 670 adults aged 55 and older which examined the effects of aerobic exercise on areas of cognition including cognitive processing speed, memory and attention. It found that aerobic physical exercise which is classed as continuous rhythmic activity that strengthens the heart and lungs’ improving respiratory endurance boosts cognitive processing speed, motor function and visual and auditory attention in healthy older people. Participants exercised aerobically between 2 and 7 days a week, for on average 3 months and underwent fitness and cognitive function tests. 8 out of the 11 studies showed that participation in aerobic exercise increased V02 max, an indicator of respiratory endurance by 14%. Improvements were shown in cardiorespiratory fitness and cognitive function when compared with non-exercising adults or those in a yoga or strength based programme. Improvements in cognition due to cardiovascular fitness were due to increased brain metabolism leading to stimulation of the production of neurotransmitters and formation of new synapses. However, it was concluded that the long term effects on cognition need to be studied.
SPARK at Naperville High School.
At Naperville High School freshman take part in Zero Hour PE which involves running each morning before going to class to determine if working out before school boosts their reading ability and other subjects. Research shows that physical activity encourages brain cells to bind to one another and for the brain to learn the connections must be made. The Zero Hour programme showed a 17% improvement in reading and comprehension compared with a 10.7% improvement for students who slept late and took the standard physical education course. John Ratey in Spark stated that other factors may have contributed such as a student growing up in an increased socioeconomic advantaged community as the same results were evident in less affluent towns that adopted regular aerobic exercise. A secondary school in Pennsylvania in a town of 6000 residents where 75% of kindergarten students received government assistant for school lunches, adopted the Naperville programme. This involved adding 10 minutes to the schedule and including more time for daily gym. Since 2000, standardised scores moved from below the state average to 17% above it in reading and 18% above it in maths. Another significant finding was that not a single fight had occurred among the 500 junior high students since the programme began.