Physical exercise in children improves not only cardiovascular health but also academic performance, an analysis of several studies has found.
The review, published in The Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, covered 14 prospective studies that included at least one measure of physical activity and one of cognitive skill or academic achievement.
Nine studies compared students based on participation in gym classes or organized sports, rather than on measurements of physical activity. These produced inconsistent conclusions.
But all three of the studies that measured time spent in physical activity found it associated with academic performance, and the two rated highest in methodological quality confirmed a positive relationship between physical activity and school achievement.
The reasons for the connection are unknown, but the researchers suggest that exercise increases the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain and may lead to increased levels of norepinephrine and endorphins, important in stress reduction.
The lead author, Amika S. Singh, a senior researcher at VU University Medical Center in the Netherlands, said there was no evidence about exactly how much or what kind of exercise is beneficial. But, she added, “I think it’s healthy to look for a good balance between time spent in academic work and in physical activity.”