Getting kids away from screens and being physically active is not only good for their mental and physical health, it also boosts their academic prowess. So says two separate research papers - the Copenhagen Consensus Statement1, which gathered research from a variety of academic disciplines to determine the effects of physical activity in children and youth, and the Active Brains study2 released in November by the University of Granada.

It is well known that physical activity across all age groups improves cardiovascular fitness and reduces the risk of developing a range of chronic illnesses, including Type 2 diabetes and osteoarthritis. However, the link between physical activity and cognitive function is less well known, particularly in relation to the academic outcomes of young Australians.

The Copenhagen research consensus noted that moderate physical activity has acute benefits to brain function, cognition and scholastic performance in children and youth, and importantly, that time taken away from academic lessons in favour of physical activity has been shown not to come at the cost of scholastic performance.

The Active Brains study went a step further, confirming that physical fitness in children – specifically their aerobic capacity and motor ability – is associated with a greater volume of grey matter in areas of the brain associated with learning, language processing and reading.

National chair of the Australian Physiotherapy Association sports group, Holly Brasher, agrees unequivocally, saying, “When kids and teens are physically fit and active – whether that be through participation in local sports or more informally by just getting outdoors and active – they get the benefits of their hearts pumping at a higher than normal rate and increased oxygen circulation to the brain, as well as the associated benefits of improved memory function, better sleep quality and reduced stress. All of these things are highly beneficial to brain structure, function and cognition, so it makes sense that school performance would also benefit.”

“Kids can be active in any number of ways, whether that be organised sports, outdoor recreational pursuits, active play and active transport such bike riding, skateboarding and walking. It doesn’t matter what you do, just that it is done regularly enough to improve your physical fitness.”

With the school year about to commence, it’s the perfect time to ensure that the end of the summer holidays doesn’t coincide with an end to your kids’ physical activity. Their school results will thank you for it!

1) The Copenhagen Consensus Conference 2016: children, youth and physical activity in schools and during leisure time

2) A whole brain volumetric approach in overweight/obese children: Examining the association with different physical fitness components and academic performance. The Active Brains project; Irene Esteban-Cornejo et al, 2017


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