Muscle Strength Supports Better Academic Performance

Posted 12/12/2016 | By HealthCorps

A new study suggests that there is a link between muscle fitness and kids’ performance on memory tests as well as math and reading skills. We already know that aerobic fitness helps kids and adults with energy balance, and aerobic exercise has been linked to better thinking abilities in pre-teens, but Based on older adult studies, the researchers postulated that the same muscle mass – cognition link might also be true for kids.

This study is good news for parents who want to help their kids to have academic edge in the classroom. Emphasizing fitness activities that support muscle strength can help kids do better in school.

The study, funded by Nike, involved 75 children between the ages of nine and eleven, who were asked to perform an aerobic test on a treadmill with an increasing incline, until they were too breathless to continue.  They were then asked to perform a similar challenge, this time doing a battery of upper and lower body and core exercises, using their own weight or a medicine ball.  After that exercise regimen, they were asked to complete a series of computerized academic challenges that involved memory, algebra, geometry, reading and writing, after both types of exercise.

After adjusting for age, sex, grade IQ and family education levels, researchers found that kids with better aerobic fitness levels on treadmill test did better on memory testing and algebra.  Kids with more muscular fitness also did better than others on memory and academic tests.  Researchers concluded that kids who are fitter – either aerobically or in muscular fitness – do better at academic tasks requiring memory skills.  The researchers did note that aerobic fitness also related well to math achievement, so there may be an additional benefit to having aerobic fitness.

Current daily exercise recommendations for kids is to get a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise daily, engaging with aerobic and weight-bearing exercise.  If this study’s findings suggest anything, it’s that exercise may be an easy pathway for kids struggling academically to improve their school skill sets and performance, particularly in memory-based lessons.

The researchers also acknowledged that the same findings would likely hold true for adults.  Clearly, the take-away message is that exercise is an easy way to enhance memory and academic performance, while gaining other health benefits.  With PE nearly gone or markedly limited in the school curriculum, this study should have educators and parents re-thinking assigning time to fitness activities during the school day.

The new school motto should be – Get kids moving to get kids learning!!

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