Originally published May 31, 2021 by the Future of Education News, UK.
By Chrissy Hatfield
Last year, only 45% of children and young people met NHS guidelines to undertake at least 60 minutes of moderately intense exercise every day. Encouraging young people to be physically active not only improves their health and wellbeing but has also been shown to help them perform better academically in school and college.
Prioritising sport and exercise in schools can boost resilience, self-esteem and educational achievement. More specifically, increased activity has been linked to improved grades and examination results.
As well as the obvious physical benefits of regular exercise, any increase in movement and activity can also enhance mental health and agility. When the full range of benefits is understood, it’s easier to see why it’s so important for students to find the motivation to keep active.
There is evidence to suggest that physical activity can have a positive effect on a wide range of cognitive skills, behaviour and academic achievement. An overview of 50 studies on the subject found that over 50% of the associations between exercise and academic performance were positive. More particularly, a study of academic achievement in teenagers by the universities of Strathclyde and Dundee found that every extra 17 minutes of exercise for boys and 12 minutes for girls increased grades and examinations results in English, maths and science.
Moderate Activity Enhances Creativity
As well as raising levels of achievement in core academic subjects, exercise can have an impact on students’ performance in creative subjects such as music, art and drama. While several studies have linked physical movement and exercise with enhanced creativity in the past, most were conducted under laboratory conditions.
More recent findings demonstrate that while low intensity movement can have a negative effect on creativity, walking and other everyday moderate activities improve creative performance. This is because regular exercise has been shown to improve the two essential components of creativity - divergent thinking, or brainstorming, and convergent thinking, focusing on a single solution to a problem.
Aerobic Exercise Improves Memory
As students are revising for exams, the ability to concentrate and memorise information becomes essential. Aerobic activity directly improves cognitive function by increasing the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain. In particular, more blood reaches the anterior cingulate cortex and the hippocampus, two regions of the brain that play vital roles in memory function and formation.
The physiological changes that take place during exercise also include a reduction in inflammation and an increase in growth hormones, chemicals that help to keep brain vessels and cells healthy. As well as causing direct physical changes, exercise can also improve memory and concentration by prompting better sleeping habits and reducing stress which can have a negative impact on cognitive ability.