Physical Health Linked to Better Grades Research Shows
A change in a students’ level of physical health and fitness leads to a change in cognitive health, finds new research carried out by University of Texas at Austin professor Darla Castelli.
One study completed in collaboration with Dr. Charles Hillman of the University of Illinois, showed that even just a single bout of intense physical activity can offer children significant cognitive benefits.
Castelli and Hillman looked at the effects that 20 minutes of walking versus 20 minutes of sitting could have on academic achievement. The children were required to complete several complex cognitive tasks after walking and returning to 10% of their resting heart rate.
Brain scans showed that the children’s cognitive abilities improved after had been active, and the more vigorous the physical activity had been and the more time they spent above their target heart zone, the greater their cognitive performance, speed and accuracy was.
Castelli, who works in the university’s Department of Kinesiology & Health Education, believes that these findings indicate just how important it is for children to be provided with opportunities to be physically active during their school day.
Another series of studies established a strong link between preadolescent children’s cognitive performance and health risk factors such as high blood pressure, arterial stiffness and high body mass index (BMI).
The more risk factors a child had, the worse their cognitive performance, which indicates a correlation between health risk factors and cognitive inhibition.
Castelli points out that along with physical health problems and a lowered academic performance, children who are overweight or obese are also more likely to experience social stigma and bullying, miss more school days and possibly receive lower grades.
“Our studies are carried out on both a short and long term basis,” says Castelli. “Single bouts of physical activity, such as recess, improve attention, while nine months of physical activity in an afterschool program improves cognitive performance, such academic achievement in math and reading.”
Her recommendations for enabling children to realize their full academic potential include ensuring that children engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity for a minimum of 60 minutes each day and allowing students to take regular physical activity breaks.
“Short bouts of activity of just 5-10 minutes can also be highly valuable. It is important to avoid long periods of inactivity; I recommend being active every 60 minutes,” comments Castelli.
Recent estimates suggest that nearly half of all school-age children are not meeting this evidence based guideline of 60 minutes of vigorous exercise per day, and Castelli points out that in order for this to change, both parents and schools need to place more emphasis on physical activity.
“Both [parents and teachers] should promote and provide opportunities for regular physical activity. Children need a chance to move and learn as well as play in school. The home environment is equally important, as children from active families become active adults.”