Regular exercise boosted teens’ exam results in a U.K. study, findings that suggest getting the recommended hour of daily physical activity might increase grades by one level.
The more children exercised at age 11, the better they did at school at English, math and science, not only at 11, but also at 13 and at 15 to 16. Performance at age 15 to 16 rose for every extra 17 minutes of exercise for boys and every 12 minutes for girls, according to the research, published today in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
The study’s authors propose that students who meet guidelines of being active for 60 minutes a day could raise their average grade in the General Certificate of Secondary Education exams taken at age 15 to 16 from C to B, in an nine-step system, John Reilly, a professor of physical activity and public health science at the University of Strathclyde, said in an e-mailed message.
“Our study suggests that the effect of physical activity may be quite large,” Reilly said. Because even the most active children got less than 60 minutes of exercise a day, the effect is speculative. “The actual levels of daily physical activity at age 11 were quite low,” Reilly said. Boys clocked 29 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day, compared with 18 minutes a day for girls.
Recent studies that have shown a link between activity and school performance have been limited by their small size, the report said.
The researchers studied a cohort of 5,000 children born between 1991 and 1992 in the south west of England. The children’s activity was measured by an accelerometer for between three and seven days.
The scientists adjusted for factors likely to influence academic success, such as socioeconomics, how much oily fish they ate, and the child’s current weight.
The researchers couldn’t pinpoint how exercise pushes academic achievement, but the effect was most pronounced for girls in science, pointing to a possible gender difference in the way activity affects female brains.
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