Originally published July 31, 2021 by Studyfinds.org.

Improving physical education classes at school could be the key to students’ academic success, especially in math, a new study suggests.

Dance, martial arts, and high-intensity team sports have a big impact on children’s academic prowess because they are “cognitively challenging”. Researchers say instead of just increasing the number of PE classes within a week, schools should consider improving the quality of the lessons.

Not even a quarter (24 percent) of U.S. children aged six to 17 participate in 60 minutes of physical activity every day, the level of physical activity recommended by the CDC. More intense gym classes could help children and teenagers meet the recommended level.

In their study, researchers systematically reviewed and pooled the data on the effects of specific physical education interventions on brainpower and academic prowess in children and teenagers. The study was carried out in eleven countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Italy, USA, U.K., Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and The Netherlands.

The analysis shows that interventions focused on boosting the quality of PE lessons increased brainpower, mainly among primary school students. They also increased academic prowess, mainly in math skills. By contrast, boosting the number or length of PE lessons had a marginal and insignificant effect on academic performance.

The researchers say that exercise enhances cognitive abilities through various direct and indirect neurobiological, psychological, and behavioral mechanisms. “Findings from our meta-analysis suggest that improving the quality of PE classes is a worthwhile investment in education that may lead to improvements in cognition and academic performance,” the authors write.

“Our results highlight the importance of having access to quality PE for children and adolescents, as recommended by UNESCO. Accordingly, schools should place more emphasis on PE not only to improve students’ health, but also to raise their cognition and academic performance.”

The study is published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

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