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Active children perform better at school

3rd January 2012

Children who get exercise have higher academic performance, on average, according to a recent Dutch review of the literature.

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The researchers found that increased physical activity levels, which brought blood and oxygen into the brain in larger amounts, increased children's ability to concentrate, as well as improving their moods, classroom performance, and behaviour.

However, they said that more accurate ways of measuring school performance would need to be used in further studies, so that researchers could produce more useful findings.

Lead researcher Amika Singh, of the Vrije Universiteit University Medical Centre in Amsterdam, said that children who learned to participate in sport also learn to obey rules, which may mean they were more disciplined and able to concentrate.

For the study, the researchers' reviewed information on more than 12,000 children drawn from 14 studies in total.

The researchers noted that all of the studies had made use of subjective measurements of physical activity, requiring either children or parents to keep track of activity levels.

Four of the studies were interventional, in which the effect of one type of activity was measured against a control group, and ten of the studies were observational, producing statistical results.

The majority of the studies were conducted in the US and Canada, with one from South Africa, with widely ranging sample sizes and follow-up periods.

The researchers wrote that two of the studies were particularly high-quality and were used as evidence for the assertion that exercise significantly increased children's academic performance.

Singh said she believed that children should get at least one hour of physical activity every day, though it was not certain what kind of activities lead to the best results.

She said that, however, she and her researchers hoped to find out in much more detail exactly how much exercise children needed in order to improve their academic performance.

In many schools, pressure to improve test scores may often lead to an overall decrease in the physical activity of students.

The researchers wrote that increased levels of norepinephrine and endorphins could play a role in the benefits of physical activity, and that increased growth factors may improve the growth of nerve cells, as well as helping existing brain matter to connect itself better.

 

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