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Research shows physical activity directly impacts academic development

Photo: Research shows physical activity directly impacts academic development
New research has found a positive and significant association between cardiorespiratory fitness and academic achievement, meaning the fitter you are the higher your grades.

Paediatric physiotherapist Nicole Pates said the research suggested that physical activity improved executive functions such as inhibitory control, working memory and cognitive flexibility.

“The research has also shown that children with higher fitness levels report less conduct problems and hyperactivity.

“Kids report that being active helps them alleviate stress and enhance concentration in the classroom.”

Ms Pates said integrating physical activity into academic lessons and moving whilst learning also had a positive impact on academic performance.

“Sifting through the literature, the studies in which children met our national guidelines over exercising every day for at least 60 minutes, over a longer period of time – months to years - had the best effect on academic performance,” she said. 
Ms Pates said she was not surprised by the findings.

“Being fit and physical active on a regular basis has a wide berth of benefits on your child’s health physically, emotionally and socially,” she said.

“Exercise that is not only physically effortful, but also engages your child emotionally and socially, can also help with a broader range of cognitive skills such as goal setting, problem solving and self-regulation.”

While ongoing physical activity and being fit has a positive effect on academic achievement, Ms Pates said it can sometimes be difficult to get started on an exercise program or join a team.

“Physios work with children to improve their gross motor skills, fitness or weight, if they are avoiding participating in sport, as they feel they may not be at the same level as their peers.

“We also work with children that may have had to sit out of exercise or sport due to injury or illness.

“Physiotherapists also help busy families develop fun, home-based exercise programs and look for ways to incorporate more activity outside of structured sport and school time. 

“Some physiotherapists work with schools to run before or after school programs such as motor skill groups, game based groups or running clubs.”

With children now back at school, now is the perfect time for physios to encourage children to get involved in physical activity, particularly if they haven’t engaged over the holidays.

“In the holidays it can be easier to get started and create a routine as kids are less busy.

“It also helps get their brains firing in time for the school term, off the couch and off the tech.

“It’s getting fit and staying fit that will have the most benefit in the long run on academic achievement.”

In light of the research, Ms Pates recommends teachers or parents who identify a lack of physical activity, reduced fitness or poor gross motor skills in a child, obtain a referral to a physiotherapist to work on these areas.

“For children with focus or attention issues related to a diagnosis, physiotherapy and exercise can be hugely beneficial.

“There is growing evidence to show that in response to exercise, children with ADHD have improved stimulus related processing and better regulation, showing greater performance in reading and maths.”

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