22nd October 2013 - Children and adolescents who get take regular exercise are more likely to achieve better school results than more sedentary classmates, a new study has found.
Furthermore, these improvements were sustained over the long term, with the findings suggesting that the more intensive the exercise, the greater the impact on test results.
The authors, writing in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, say there is a growing body of evidence to show that physical activity - particularly of the moderate to vigorous type - is linked to improvements in thinking skills. They say that if the latest findings are confirmed by further research, they could have implications for public health and education policy.
"Our study suggests that physical activity is beneficial for academic attainment," lead author Josephine Booth, a lecturer at the University of Dundee tells Boots WebMD. "The current guidelines suggest that young people should do at least 60 minutes of activity daily. This isn't just during school time though."
The findings are based on the exercise regimes of 4,755 eleven year olds enrolled in a long-term study into children and adolescents in the Bristol area. This information was linked with how they performed at school in the core subjects of English, science and maths at key stages of 11, 13 and GCSEs at16.
All the children wore an accelerometer to show how much exercise they did. These showed that the average boy clocked up 29 minutes each day, while the girls only managed 18 minutes. For both boys and girls this was significantly less than the recommended amount of moderate to vigorous activity each day.
After adjusting for factors that could have influenced the results, the researchers found that at the age of 11 better academic performance across all three core subjects was linked to the amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity undertaken.
Academic performance at the age of 13 was similarly linked to how much moderate to vigorous exercise pupils had had at the age of 11.
The researchers also checked exam results when the same children took their GCSE results, converting their grades into points so they could assess performance. This also showed a positive effect from exercise, with a noticeable increase in performance for every additional 17 minutes of exercise each day undertaken by boys and 12 minutes for girls.
Girls and science
One stand out feature that caught the attention of the researchers was that girls' science results seemed to benefit most.
"This is an important finding, especially in light of the current UK and European Commission policy aimed at increasing the number of females in science subjects, the authors comment.
Lucie Russell, director of campaigns at Young Minds, tells us: "We welcome this research, as wellbeing and educational attainment are inextricably linked. Regular exercise, eating healthily and enough sleep are all cornerstones of good mental health and pupils who are mentally healthy will flourish in both school and in their personal lives.
"It's particularly interesting that the study found that the more vigorous the exercise undertaken the greater the positive academic impact across key stages 1-4. A healthy and active lifestyle, including regular exercise, promotes a raft of positive outcomes not least for mental health."
'Associations between objectively measured physical activity and academic attainment in adolescents
from a UK cohort', JN Booth et al, British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Josephine Booth, lecturer, University of Dundee.
Lucie Russell, Young Minds.
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