Niagara Gazette

Community News Network

October 23, 2013

For kids, toning up the body may be a good way to tone up the mind

There's little dispute that physical activity is good for kids: It not only helps develop muscles and fend off obesity, it also offers opportunities to socialize and learn new skills. Getting kids active is a key component of first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign, which says "children need 60 minutes of play with moderate to vigorous activity every day to grow up to a healthy weight."

Can physical activity also help improve a child's academic performance?

"This is a very consistent finding, that physically fit kids do better in school," says James Sallis, a professor of family and preventive medicine at the University of California at San Diego, who has long worked on preventing childhood obesity.

A recent report from the Institute of Medicine asserts that "children who are more active show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed, and perform better on standardized academic tests than children who are less active."

A strong body of research supports the link between physical fitness and test scores. In one study, for example, nearly 2,000 California schoolchildren who were outside a "healthy fitness zone" — a 12-year-old who took longer than 12 minutes to run a mile would be outside that zone — scored lower on state standardized tests than those who were more fit.

A similar study in Nebraska assessed the fitness of schoolchildren in a shuttle run, in which kids run a back-and-forth lap in a set time. The kids who performed best on this test scored higher on both the math and reading portions of state standardized exams.

While compelling, such evidence does not prove that fitness is the cause of higher test scores. Fitness in kids also tends to correlate with higher socioeconomic status, which is strongly predictive of academic achievement.

The more important question is: Does adding opportunities for physical activity during the school day boosts kids' capacity to learn?

The research on this question is still in its early stages, but the evidence is beginning to suggest that the answer is yes.

One recent study conducted in Georgia invited 111 inactive, overweight kids, age 7 to 11, to participate in an after-school exercise program, during which they were active for at least 20 minutes. Another 60 kids, also overweight, were wait-listed and served as controls. After 13 weeks, the kids in the exercise program performed better than the controls on tests of mental tasks such as planning, organizing and strategizing, as well as on standardized math tests.

In Kansas, an intervention designed to combat obesity also found a link between physical activity and learning. In the study, teachers at 14 elementary schools were trained to teach lessons using movement; for example, students might hop or run to letters on the floor to spell words or might solve 2+2=4 by moving their bodies rather than blocks. Ten other schools served as controls; their teachers received no training.

The added activity had positive effects on body weight. In the schools where activity was added, 21.8 percent of children who were at risk for obesity moved into the normal range for body mass index (a measure of weight that takes height into account); in the control schools, 16.8 percent of at-risk kids moved to normal.

Study co-author Joseph Donnelly, director of the Center for Physical Activity and Weight Management at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, says he added a measure of academic performance almost as an afterthought, "to show, at minimum, that we were not disrupting the classroom," he says.

What happened surprised the researchers: Scores on a 30-minute standardized test of reading, writing and math were higher in the schools that used active lessons than in the schools that didn't.

Though it is too early to draw broad conclusions from these studies, the evidence is mounting that physical activity is even more beneficial than previously thought. How this translates into children's lives — where video games and other sedentary activities are a constant allure — is a challenge parents and schools face together.

One promising idea, called SPARK, was developed by Sallis in 1989. It includes a curriculum of activities, available for a fee, that use simple equipment and are led by parents, who conduct before-school and recess-time activities, and by teachers, who incorporate "brain breaks" during classroom time.

Another is a 45-minute before-school program, BOKS. Funded by Reebok, BOKS trains a teacher or parent in how to lead exercises and games to get kids moving.

Sports and lessons in dance or karate are other ways kids get physical activity. But Sallis advises parents to check the quality of such organized activities: The kids "should be active at least 50 percent of the time. A lot of programs don't meet that goal."

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Community News Network
  • Affirmative action ruling challenges colleges seeking diversity

    The U.S. Supreme Court's support of Michigan's ban on race-based affirmative action in university admissions may spur colleges to find new ways to achieve diversity without using racial preferences.

    April 23, 2014

  • A 'wearable robot' helps her walk again

    Science is about facts, numbers, laws and formulas. To be really good at it, you need to spend a lot of time in school. But science is also about something more: dreaming big and helping people.

    April 23, 2014

  • Cuba is running out of condoms

    The newest item on Cuba's list of dwindling commodities is condoms, which are now reportedly in short supply. In response, the Cuban government has approved the sale of expired condoms.

    April 23, 2014

  • The waffle taco's biggest enemy isn't McDonald's. It's consumer habits.

    Gesturing to Taco Bell, Thompson said McDonald's had "not seen an impact relative to the most recent competitor that entered the [breakfast] space," and that new competition would only make McDonald's pursue breakfast more aggressively.

    April 23, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 4.42.47 PM.png VIDEO: Leopard attacks crowd in India

    A leopard caused panic in the city of Chandrapur when it sprung from the roof of a house and charged at rescue workers.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • The top 12 government programs ever

    Which federal programs and policies succeed in being cost-effective and targeting those who need them most? These two tests are obvious: After all, why would we spend taxpayers' money on a program that isn't worth what it costs or helps those who do not need help?

    April 22, 2014

  • In cuffs... 'Warlock' in West Virginia accused of sexual assault

    Police in West Virginia say a man claiming to be a “warlock” used promises of magical spells to lure children into committing sexual acts with him.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Cats outsmart the researchers

    I knew a lot had been written about dogs, and I assumed there must be at least a handful of studies on cats. But after weeks of scouring the scientific world for someone - anyone - who studied how cats think, all I was left with was this statement, laughed over the phone to me by one of the world's top animal cognition experts, a Hungarian scientist named Ádám Miklósi.

    April 22, 2014

  • McCain 1 House Republicans are more active on Twitter than Democrats

    Your representative in the House is almost certainly on Twitter. Your senator definitely is. But how are they using the social network? Are Democrats more active than Republicans, or vice versa? Who has the most followers on the Hill?

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Can Hillary Clinton rock the cradle and the world?

    What's most interesting to contemplate is the effect becoming a grandmother will have on Hillary's ambition. It's one of life's unfairnesses that a woman's peak career years often coincide with her peak childbearing years.

    April 21, 2014

Featured Ads
House Ads
AP Video
Opinion
House Ads
Night & Day
Twitter News
Follow us on twitter
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Front page