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Exercise Boosts Kids' Academic Performance

Children Who Are Active in Sports or Physical Education May Do Better in School, Research Suggests

By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 3, 2012 -- Physical activity may help children exercise their brains as well as their bodies.

A new review suggests that children who are active in sports or physical activity perform better at school.

Researchers say physical activity may enhance children's brain function and thinking skills by increasing blood and oxygen flow to the brain, as well as triggering the release of feel-good hormones like endorphins.

"Besides these suggested physiological effects, regular participation in sports activities may improve children's behavior in the classroom, increasing the odds of better concentration on the academic content of these lessons," researcher Amika Singh, PhD, of the Vrije Universiteit University Medical Center in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and colleagues write in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Exercise and Academics Linked

In the review, researchers looked at 14 studies on physical activity and academic performance in children between the ages of 6 and 18 years. Twelve of the studies were conducted in the U.S.

Analysis of these studies suggested strong evidence of a positive relationship between physical activity and academic performance.

In the review, only two of the studies met the researchers' high-quality standards for scientific research. Both of these studies best affirmed the link between physical activity and academic performance.

Despite growing evidence of a positive link between physical activity and academic performance, researchers say physical activity levels are declining at schools.

"The increasing pressures to improve academic scores often lead to additional instructional time for subjects such as mathematics and language at the cost of time for being physically active," the researchers write.

Researchers say more high-quality studies are needed to further explain the link between physical activity and academic performance.

SOURCES: Singh, A. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, January 2012.News release, American Medical Association.

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