Physical fitness = A+ on student report cards
Whether in recess or gym class, physical fitness has both health and social benefits for children. A new study finds that fitness also has a positive impact on the ability for children to learn.
“Besides being great for your overall physical health, physical activity is absolutely beneficial for your brain,” says Dr. Joshua Alpert, Orthopedic Surgeon on the Medical Staff at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, Ill. “Studies clearly show that physical activity helps to improve a child’s performance in the classroom.”
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign study tested 48 9- and 10-year olds on their physical fitness levels and divided the children in two groups (most fit and least fit). The next day, the children were required to memorize specific regions on a map based on two different learning processes. In the first process, children were quizzed intermittently on the subject matter to help with memorization. The second process involved straight memorization—the most difficult form of learning.
The results of the study found that children who were the most physically fit scored significantly higher than the less fit group in both circumstances, particularly straight memorization. In fact, the physically fit group memorized 40 percent of the regions on the map compared to less than 25 percent by the less fit group.
“One of the biggest reasons children have difficulty learning is due to a lack of concentration in the classroom,” Dr. Alpert says. “Physical activity helps them to release some of that built-up energy and reduces the monotony of sitting in class so they can more easily concentrate.”
With physical education programs increasingly being cut in schools, this study reinforces the importance of physical fitness on both a physical and cognitive health level. “It’s a huge mistake for schools to cut physical education programs,” Dr. Alpert says. “Not only will children perform better in the classroom, but physical fitness helps to reduce the childhood obesity problem in this country. Children are becoming increasingly sedentary with video games and other forms of technology.”
To obtain the optimal benefits of exercise, children should participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day.
“Not only is physical fitness beneficial for a child at school, but it’s also beneficial later in life when that child grows up and enters the workforce,” Dr. Alpert says. “Children should get involved in athletic activities at a young age to instill healthy habits that will last a lifetime.”
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