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Studies: Fitness Improves Kids' Academic Performance

  • Carol Pearson

Numerous studies show children across the world are becoming less fit, result is a spike in obesity, diabetes and other related diseases.

That's why schools across the U.S., such as Lincoln Elementary in Redondo Beach, California, have instituted programs like the "walking school bus," in which kids carry a large cardboard cutout of a school bus and join other kids along the way.

Parents see it as a way to get the kids exercising in the morning, while kids see it as a way to have fun and talk to their friends on the way to school.

Experts say parents and schools have to find ways to keep kids active, even if they are participating in interactive exercise programs, like the WII Fit jogging program.

The World Health Organization recommends that children between the ages of five and 17 should do at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day.

A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control shows that most American children are physically unfit.

Yet studies on children and exercise show that fitness contributes to more than good physical health.

Researchers at the U.S. Institute of Medicine looked at children's exercise programs and found they actually help students academically. University of Texas epidemiology professor Harold Kohl led the study.

"The evidence is really emerging in the last five or six years," he said. "Both cognitive studies, brain imaging studies and other [studies] show the acute effects that a bout or two of physical activity has on blood profusion in the brain — in the centers that really help children learn to recall things faster and think faster."

Kohl says that overall, physically active kids are more likely to achieve their full academic potential compared to children who are not physically active.

Another study from the University of Illinois shows similar results, according to Community Health Professor Charles Hillman.

"We find that following a bout of walking, children have higher academic achievement scores in reading and mathematics," he said.

Hillman says children in his study who had regular physical activity improved academically, but he also says when teachers build physical activity into the classroom or get children to exercise before class, they are then at their peak for learning.