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New Zealand Science Teacher


Brain power in young people improved by exercise

A new consensus statement published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine says that brain power and academic prowess in young people are improved by physical activity.

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It turns out that time spent away from book learning in physical activity can actually improve education outcomes in young people, according to a recent distillation of the best available evidence published in the Journal.

The evidence was collated by a consensus panel of international experts with a wide range of specialisations from the UK, Scandinavia, and North America, in Copenhagen, Denmark, in April of this year.

It includes 21 separate statements on the four themes of fitness and health: intellectual performance; engagement, motivation and wellbeing; and social inclusion, and spans structured and unstructured forms of physical activity for 6 to 18-year-olds in school and during leisure time.

The consensus statement concludes that:

  • physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness are good for children’s and young people’s brain development and function as well as their intellect

  • time taken away from lessons in favour of physical activity does not come at the cost of getting good grades

  • a session of physical activity before, during, and after school boosts academic prowess

  • mastery of basic movement boosts brain power and academic performance

  • a single session of moderately energetic physical activity has immediate positive effects on brain function, intellect, and academic performance.

In terms of the physiological benefits of exercise, the statement says that cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness “are strong predictors” of the risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes in later life, and that vigorous exercise in childhood helps to keep these risk factors in check.

But frequent moderate intensity and, to a lesser extent, low intensity exercise will still help improve kids’ heart health and metabolism, while physical activity is a key component of the treatment of many long-term conditions in 6 to 18-year-olds.

But the positive effects of exercise are not restricted to physical health, says the statement. Regular physical activity can help develop important life skills and boost self esteem, motivation, confidence and wellbeing. And it can strengthen/foster relationships with peers, parents, and coaches.

And just as importantly, activities that take account of culture and context can promote social inclusion for those from different backgrounds, ethnicities, sexual orientation, skill levels and physical capacity.

Incorporating physical activity into every aspect of school life and providing protected public spaces, such as bike lanes, parks and playgrounds “are both effective strategies for providing equitable access to, and enhancing physical activity for, children and youth”, says the statement.

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