Is your child having difficulty with his studies? His physical fitness may have something to do with it. There is currently a staggering amount of research that shows the relationship between physical activity, fitness, and the ability of children to absorb and remember new information.
One study from the University of North Texas, for instance, found that having a healthy heart and lungs are one of the key factors for middle school students to perform and achieve good grades in reading and mathematics. According to study co-author Trent A. Petrie, PhD, cardiorespiratory fitness was “the only factor” that the researchers consistently found to have an effect on boys’ and girls’ grades on reading and math tests.
Here’s another: a study of 11,743 graders in Nebraska found that all of them benefited academically from being physically fit, body size notwithstanding. The study recommended that school systems should concentrate on improving each student’s aerobic fitness to improve their academic performance.
The science behind these findings is pretty simple: as exercise increases our heart rate, our brain receives more oxygen. At the same time, physical activity would also trigger the release of proteins called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (also known as BDNF), which brings about a number of other chemicals that aid in creating new cells and promote an environment that helps in the development of our brain cells.
Here’s proof–a 2010 research showed that running on treadmills regularly made cynomolgus monkeys smarter. As the blood flow to the exercising monkeys’ brains increased, they learned to use testing apparatus significantly faster than the sedentary ones.
A study by the University of South Australia discovered that two-thirds of school children aged 9 to 13 never biked or walked to school. In fact, researchers found that the practice of cycling to school has almost disappeared as only one in 20 does it. Because of television and video games, children have not been getting enough exercise, which is unfortunate since regular physical activity provides a number of health benefits including the following:
- Stronger bones, muscles, and joints.
- Lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- A better immune system.
- Helps ease the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
- Reduces restlessness.
- Decreases the likelihood of becoming overweight.
- Possibly lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
- Lessens stress.
- Helps with self-esteem.
- Improved mood and sleep.
- Helps children feel more ready to learn in school.
It’s established that regular exercise helps children not only with their studies but with their health and overall outlook as well. But given all the distractions that they face, how can children be motivated to become active? Here are a few suggestions:
- Explore activities your child will like. It may not necessarily be team sports like rugby or basketball; your child might be interested in other activities like swimming, tae kwon do, dancing, or cycling. You’ll have to be patient, however–your child will need some time to try the activity and decide what he or she enjoys.
- Play with your children. Doing a physical activity together is a great way to bond with your kids, encourage them to be active, and get some exercise yourself. You don’t need to spend for expensive equipment or a gym membership. You can walk to school together, cycle together, or shoot some hoops in your garage.
- Minimize the amount of time kids spend watching TV, surfing the internet, and playing video games. How much time? According to the Department of Health, kids and young people shouldn’t spend more than two hours per day, especially during the daytime. To further limit their screen time, place the computer in a shared area and take the telly out of their rooms.
- Practice what you preach. You won’t be able to encourage your children to be more active if you’re sedentary as well. By setting an example, your children will follow you even when you’re not looking.
- Kids enjoy spending time with their friends. Use this to your advantage and invite your child’s friend along for a hike, bike ride, hoops, or whatever other fun physical activity.
- Establish a routine. It’s important that you make exercise a regular activity that’s part of the entire family’s schedule. Treat it the same way as chores, play-dates, brushing your teeth, birthday parties, and other rituals that your household does. Once they incorporate this, exercise will become a part of their life.