As summer winds to a close and the school-year approaches, with it goes a time of easy activity. Maintaining an active lifestyle into the fall is extremely important. Exercise has countless health benefits for adults, and even more for children. New studies have indicated and continued to back older research that fitter children are not only are healthier, they tend to do better in school than other children. Furthermore, a child’s level of fitness is a stronger determiner of academic success than both socioeconomic status and confidence levels – two factors known to have a role in how well a child performs.
Researcher Sudhish Srikanth, a University of North Texas student, conducted this latest study of over 1,200 Texas middle-schoolers. His research evaluated the students’ fitness by looking at muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, aerobic capacity, and body composition. He found that the fitter students (even with consideration to the other outside factors) did better in both math and reading tests. While his studies didn’t seek to explain the relationship between the two, other studies can fill in some of the blanks.
What makes fitness such a powerful influence? Researcher Trent Petrie, PhD, director of the Center for Sport Psychology at the University of North Texas backed up Srikanth’s study by explaining that exercise and high levels of fitness are known to improve memory, concentration and the ability to stick with tasks at hand. Furthermore, a 2010 University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana delved deeper by actually giving the students in its study an MRI to see the differences in its participants brains. It found that the children with the highest fitness levels (as tested on a treadmill) had significantly larger basal ganglia – which is the section of the brain that handles focus, control and cognitive function.
While former studies used children of the same means, this newest study – though considered to still be in its preliminary stages – is among the first to consider multiple variables. Social support is still crucial for highest levels of success, especially with boys. As many school districts across the country are reviewing their budgets and planning ways to cut spending, recesses and physical education classes often find their ways to the chopping block.
Besides helping prevent serious health conditions like obesity and Diabetes, which can create significant lifelong problems and are harder to treat in children, these moments of play and activity are more than just a time-filler – they are necessary to a child’s development inside the classroom. In impoverished neighborhoods and districts where families often can’t afford afterschool activities or such activities are not available, these findings could potentially prove especially critical in raising the academic profiles in schools that tend to struggle. These structured times set aside for activity – which could be the only guaranteed physical exertion a child gets – are necessary to ensuring that all children have the ability and the cognitive function to achieve optimal academic success regardless of financial means.