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Study: Exercise with Academic Lessons Boost Scores

Posted on 30 November 2016

exercise improves academic performance

Students earned higher test scores in math and spelling after exercise was incorporated into their lessons for two years, adding to the growing evidence that physical activity boosts academic achievement, cognitive skills, and positive behavior in students.

“These findings suggest physically active academic lessons should be part of the school curriculum because it is an innovative and effective way for teachers to improve children’s academic achievement,” researchers said in the study Physically Active Math and Language Lessons Improve Academic Achievement: A Cluster RCT (Mullender-Wijnsma MJ, et al. Pediatrics. Feb. 24, 2016)

classroom exercise and academic performance


Previous studies found that children’s engagement and functioning levels improved shortly after exercising, so the team set out to see if prolonged periods of physical activity would have similar effects on reading, spelling and math performance.

They developed math and language lessons that incorporated moderate to vigorous exercise and implemented them into second- and third-grade classrooms. For example, children learning to multiply two times four would jump on a spot eight times when solving the problem.

Children in the intervention group took part in these lessons three times a week, 22 weeks a year for two years. Meanwhile, a control group used traditional sedentary lessons with the same amount of instruction time. Achievement was measured before the study and after the first and second years.

exercise in the classroom improves academic performance


After the first year, there were no significant effects on math speed and spelling test scores. However, after year two, physically active students gained at least four months more learning than the control group, according to the study.

In general math, student performance improved more than the control group in each year with a total of four months of gains after two years. There were no significant differences in the two groups’ reading scores, which researchers said may have been due to the content of the lessons or the tests.

“It is also possible that the innovative teaching method may be effective because brain and body work in conjunction and because our cognitive knowledge is rooted in bodily awareness,” researchers said.
exercise has positive effects on a childs brain


Exercise directly impacts the behavior and development of the brain. “The effects of physical activity on cognition is particularly important in the developing brains of youth,” says Dr. Carley Gomez-Meade, pediatrician and Little Leaves Clothing co-founder.

Exercise affects executive functioning by:

  • Increasing oxygen flow to the brain
  • Increasing brain neurotransmitter production
  • Increased brain-derived neurotrophins. Neurotrophins induce the survival, development and function of neurons in areas responsible for learning, memory, and higher thinking.

exercise in the classroom
Source: Oakridge Elementary
Students at Oakridge Elementary school are equipped to stay active in the classroom


And a lot of schools are getting the message. After a mother of a particularly active son approached their principal with research, they installed pedal desks, standing balance desks, and kid-sized ball chairs (with money raised from grants and fundraisers) that kept students moving while they learned. And the results were remarkable.

By encouraging school programs to think outside of the box, student performance and behavior improves, and students are given the opportunity to flourish.

Sources and Resources:
American Academy of Pediatrics
Center for Disease Control: The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education and Academic Performance

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