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How exercise improves school grades

Being active not only makes your child fitter and physically healthier – it can also help them do better at school. Kate Cracknell reports

Did you know your children will do better at school – in terms of their behaviour in the classroom, their ability to focus, and even their academic achievements – if they’re physically active on a regular basis?

Sounds too good to be true? Let’s take a look at the evidence, because numerous research studies and in-school projects have come to the same conclusion: active kids do better in the classroom.

Active kids achieve more academically

Research by The Cooper Institute in Texas, US, carried out as far back as 2007–08, highlights a very clear correlation between children’s activity levels and academic performance.

At high-performing schools in Texas – those achieving the state’s top academic rating of ‘exemplary’ – about 80 per cent of students were in the healthy zone for cardiovascular fitness. At low-performing schools, rated ‘academically unacceptable’, slightly over 40 per cent of students were in the healthy zone for cardiovascular fitness.

Exercise influences brain function

One of the pre-eminent names in this field is Dr John Ratey, a Harvard Medical School professor whose 2008 book, SPARK, provided an overview of all the fascinating ways in which exercise can impact the functioning of the brain.

Pulling together 14 years-worth of clinical and neuroscientific information, combined with examples and anecdotes to bring the science to life, the enlightening book shows just how beneficial exercise is, not just for our physical health but also for our mental wellbeing and peak performance.

Grades go up, behavioural issues go down

The first chapter of SPARK is all about a trailblazing school in Naperville, US. Since the early 1990s, the school has moved its physical education away from traditional ball sports to a fitness-based daily activity programme.

All the kids are included all of the time, with heart rates monitored to ensure the correct physical work rates.

And the results? Whereas across the US as a whole almost 40 per cent of children are overweight, in this Naperville school that figure is just 3 per cent.

Not only that but, in 1999, 98 per cent of the students took the TIMSS test – the international science and maths tests – and they came top in the world in science and sixth in maths, even though they were spending 45 minutes a day devoted to physical fitness.

Inspired by this example, a school in Copenhagen, Denmark, trialled a four-month scheme where 250 children in senior high school took part in a very vigorous fitness programme for 45 minutes each day. There was subsequently a 40 per cent increase in attendance, a decrease in discipline problems, and academic results improved by a whole grade and a half on average over the four months.

Improving fitness in schools globally

Similar initiatives have since followed

Sportswear brand Reebok put its name to the BOKS before-school activity programme, originally launched at an elementary school in Massachusetts, US, in 2009 by a lady called Kathleen Tullie, who had been inspired by reading SPARK. The BOKS programme has now rolled out to more than 1,200 schools across 48 US States and six countries.

Meanwhile, in the UK, The Daily Mile is an initiative that’s hit the headlines recently. Already in place across hundreds of schools, this programme gets schoolchildren running for 15 minutes every day – they average a mile in this time – in a bid to improve not only fitness levels but also concentration levels, mood, behaviour and general wellbeing. Children run in their school uniforms, so no kit or changing time is needed, and the whole thing is designed to be non-competitive and fun – there are no winners or losers. So successful has it been that there are now talks going on about introducing it into senior schools, and even adult workplaces.

Exercise improves learning ability

Finland is a true shining light in the world of children’s activity. In this country, 80 per cent of children under the age of 16 years are involved in the Schools on the Move network, which sees movement introduced into academic lessons so children aren’

A 2016 report showed that 70 per cent of all primary school now achieve the national target of one hour’s activity a day during the school day – and the programme has had a positive effect on learning too: 90 per cent of teaching staff surveyed said the increased levels of physical activity contributed to a “peaceful learning environment”.

And finally another great example from the US, in an area of South Carolina where on average just 25 per cent of children graduate from high school. Here, a handful of schools stand head and shoulders above the rest, with 100 per cent of children graduating from high school and going to college. The key difference? Kinaesthetic classrooms – dubbed ‘Brain Rooms’ – where children move while they learn, doing maths on a treadmill or an exercise bike, for example. Feedback from students and parents is resoundingly positive, with students enthusing about the way being active ‘wakes me up and energises my brain’ and parents explaining how the healthy lifestyle is carrying over into their homes and families.

Aspria helps children do better at school

Sadly not all schools have such a strong focus on physical activity, but don’t despair. We’re here to help!

Activity doesn’t have to happen during school hours to benefit your child in the ways described above: your child just has to be active on a regular, and ideally daily, basis.

With an exciting and diverse range of children’s activities just waiting to be explored – from swimming and martial arts classes, through football and tennis courses, to Capoeira and holiday camps – we have everything you need to keep your children not only fit and happy, but also on top of their game at school.

Would you like to take advantage of everything Aspria has to offer to your child?

The Academy team would be delighted to share more information about what’s on offer, so do please have a chat to them when you’ll be in the club.



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