Want Smarter Kids? Tell Them To Go Play!
Fitter kids do better at school, according to new research that echoes numerous previous findings.
In the study, the fitter the middle school students were, the better they did on reading and math tests, according to researcher Sudhish Srikanth, a University of North Texas student. He presented his research last Friday at the American Psychological Association’s annual meeting in Orlando, Florida.
In the study, funded by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, the researchers tested 1,211 students from five Texas middle schools. They looked at each student’s academic self-concept — how confident they were in their abilities to do well — and took into account the student’s socioeconomic status. And the average scores went up in correlation with levels of fitness.
The study included more than 1 200 middle school students from five schools in a suburban area of Texas, with 561 boys and 650 girls.
Fitness tests were administered during physical education classes to determine the youngsters’ heart and lung health (cardiorespiratory fitness), as well as their body mass index (BMI), an indicator of how much body fat a person has. The children also filled out questionnaires that helped the researchers determine factors such as self-esteem and social support.
After accounting for factors such as age, sex, family income and self-esteem, the researchers found that for both boys and girls, higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness predicted better scores on both the math and reading tests.
The research doesn’t prove cause and effect, and the researchers didn’t try to explain the link. But there is plenty more research demonstrating how physical fitness is associated with improvements in memory, concentration, organization, and staying on task.
“It’s hard to tease apart the exact reason for this association,” said Becky Hashim, an attending clinical psychologist and assistant professor in the departments of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Montefiore, in New York City.
“It may be that the children are getting more oxygen. When the heart and lungs are working at a higher capacity, it may allow the brain to work at peak performance. Children who are less fit may be sleepier during school,” she noted. “I personally feel that there’s probably a strong relationship between the confidence you get from being able to do something physical well and academic performance.”
It seems like a no-brainer to me, both as a teacher and a mother. Kids do better when they’ve had a chance to get outside and run around.
Schools in Finland know this: Finnish elementary school children receive an average of 75 minutes of recess a day compared to only 27 minutes in the United States. Essentially, they take a 15-minute break after every class.
And yet, as more and more studies emerge showing a clear link between fitness and better grades, itís getting harder for children in the U.S. to get any exercise at school. Forty percent of schools across the country have either cut down on recess time or gotten rid of it altogether.
So it would be good if school administrators in the U.S. paid attention to this report. Increasing and improving recess, physical education, after-school physical activity and sports, are all great ideas for improving cognitive development, including grades, memory and concentration.
Across the U.S., scoring well on standardized tests has become the solitary goal for many school administrators. Can we please pay attention to studies like these, and get back to what makes sense?
Photo Credit: broeders1964