Is exercise the secret to brainier children?

Being physically fit can improve test results in 9 to 10 year olds says new research. So should we all be rushing out to buy trackies and trainers?


Can getting your child fitter boost their exam results? That’s what headlines from new research in America is suggesting. We’ve taken a deeper look at the results…


What were the main findings?

After testing children aged 9-to-10-years-old, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that fitter children performed significantly better in memory tests.

24 of the children were in the top 30% in their age group for fitness. The other half were in the lowest 30% for fitness.

When tested, children who were fitter performed better than those who were not as fit.

48 children were asked to memorise the names and locations on a fictitious map. They were given both short quizzes and memory tests. They were retested the following day.

In the short quizzes, the children who were physically fit got an average score of 54.2% while the children who were not fit got an average score of 44.2%.  

In the memory test the following day, the difference was more pronounced: the physically active children scored 43% while the physically unfit scored 25.8%.

The researchers concluded that being physically fit helps you commit things to memory.

What was the basis of this study?

The researchers hope that the findings will have an implication for school policy. Time spent doing sport and exercise in schools has been reduced to make more time for maths, science and English and the researchers would like to see this reconsidered.

What do other experts say?

The flaw in the research is that the sample was very small. But environmental factors were taken into account: all the children shared the same socioeconomic status, scored roughly the same for intelligence and there was an even split in both groups of boys and girls.

This isn’t the first time researchers have looked at whether exercise can improve memory and learning. Research was undertaken in adults at Harvard University earlier this year.

Although it focused on brain health in men, it said: “Moderately intense exercise can help maintain healthy blood pressure and weight, improves energy, lifts mood, lowers stress and anxiety, and keeps the heart healthy, all of which contribute to brain health. Regular exercise also stimulates brain regions that are involved in memory function.” The researchers recommended 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, ideally five days a week.

So should exercise become part of our children’s daily routine, like brushing teeth?

Yes – the NHS already recommends that it is. The advice is:

  • children aged 5 to 18 do at least 60 minutes of aerobic exercise a day
  • this should be a mix of moderate-intensity activities – your child is working hard enough to raise their heart rate and break a sweat – and vigorous-intensity activities – they’re breathing hard and fast, and their heart rate has gone up quite a bit

Remember, physical activity can be brought into all parts of family life

  • walking somewhere rather than automatically driving or catching a bus
  • taking a ball if you’re visiting the park
  • ditching the car school-run to cycle or walk
  • doing a charity run or walk together as a family
  • encouraging races 

Why not try one of our recommended family walks?

The NHS has a sports quiz to help you figure out what activity they might enjoy best.

Read more…


Comments ()

Please read our Chat guidelines.