MONDAY, Oct. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Getting regular daily
exercise of moderate to vigorous intensity may also boost students'
academic performance, according to a new U.K. study.
The more intense the exercise, the greater the impact on
English, math and science test results, the study authors found.
However, they couldn't explain the precise causes behind the
"A number of suggestions have been put forward for why there is a link -- such as physical activity increasing time on task in the classroom, or having an impact on self-esteem," said study researcher Josephine Booth, a lecturer at the University of Dundee, in Scotland.
There may be a biological explanation, she said, with other
researchers finding low levels of activity can adversely affect
brain structure and function, and affect students' intellectual
Booth also couldn't say for sure whether overall motivation
explains the link -- that high-achieving kids do well in exercise
and academics. "We were unable to adjust for personality type in
the present study," she said.
The study is published online Oct. 21 in the
British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Booth's team evaluated nearly 5,000 students enrolled in the
"Children of the 90s" study, which is tracking long-term health
outcomes of about 14,000 children born in England between 1991 and
She and her team measured the duration and intensity of the
students' daily physical activity for a period of three to seven
days when they were aged 11. The students wore a device on their
belts to measure activity.
At age 11, both boys and girls were below the 60 minutes
recommended for daily exercise. The boys clocked 29 minutes, on
average, and the girls, 18 minutes.
Those who exercised the most did better in national academic
exams. At age 11, the kids who exercised most had better
performance in all three subjects. The activity especially helped
the girls' science performance. At ages 13, 15 and 16, the link
The researchers accounted for other factors that might affect
school performance -- such as social and economic status, birth
weight, the mothers' ages at delivery and smoking during pregnancy
-- and the link still held.
The new research adds to previous work that has shown a positive
effect of physical activity on children's brain functioning and
cognitive (thinking) performance, said James Sallis, a
distinguished professor of family and preventive medicine and
director of Active Living Research, at the University of
California, San Diego. He reviewed the new research but did not
participate in it.
"One of the impressive aspects of this study is they pinpointed the effects of moderate-to-vigorous activity by adjusting for the effect of total activity, which is mostly light intensity, such as slow walking," Sallis said. "It is more reasonable to expect that higher-intensity activity would have biological effects on the brain that could lead to improved academic performance."
Sallis said he doubts that a student's overall motivation level
can explain the findings. "The authors adjusted for socioeconomic
status and other factors known to be related to motivation," he
According to study author Booth, the findings have important
implications for education policy, suggesting that school should
value physical activity as a way to improve classroom
To learn more about recommended activity levels for kids, visit
World Health Organization.
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