For most of my life, all I’ve really wanted to do was play. As a child, most of the adults in my life preached to me about how I would have to put aside my interests in sports and games for more serious matters. What if I my instincts were right all along? What if play wasn’t frivolous? What if play made you smarter? New information suggests that while young people are exercising their bodies, they may be exercising their brains.
Two new research finding indicate physical activity improves young people’s ability to perform better in school. Dutch researchers reviewed 14 previous studies examining the link between physical activity and academic performance. The findings were recently published in Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. Additionally, the Center’s for Disease Control conducted a literature review which found that out of 50 studies, more than half showed a positive association between school-based physical activity and academic performance.
Some of the research showed that concentration, memory, self-esteem and verbal skills improved in students who participated in physical activity. Reasons for the link are unknown. However, regular physical activity causes increased blood flow to the brain. More oxygen helps with better brain function. Additionally, physical activity releases hormones which improve mood. Finally, regular physical activity reduces stress levels within the body making it easier to concentrate on academic pursuits.
Bobby Fischer, arguably the world’s all-time chess champion, recognized the link between increase physical activity and reduced stress and fatigue. In 1972, he trained like an athlete in his preparation for his championship match against Russian Boris Spassky. At the height of the Cold War, this was a huge media event. Bobby recognized the stressors of being engaged in mental activity over an extended period of time as well as the physically draining spotlight this match up created.
Pent up energy and stress may be one factor in dropping standardized test scores and increased acting out in school. One of the unintended consequences of No Child Left Behind is the elimination of gym and recess from many schools. Critics argue that gym takes away study time from the three R’s – reading, writing and arithmetic. Ironically, these actions may be counterproductive. For more on the importance of gym, go to http://www.aahperd.org/naspe/publications/teachingTools/whyPE.cfm.
Wayne B. Moss is BGCA's senior director of Sports, Fitness and Recreation.
My colleagues and I help develop High Yield Learning Activities for Club members. These are activities with a developmental purpose. If academic learning is incorporated with physical activities, young people will benefit both ways. BGCA, with the support of the Coca Cola Company and the WellPoint Foundation, has released a new guide – Back Pocket Program Hints, Too - for Clubs that is chocked full of high yield activities.
It’s time to get back to the four R’s – reading, writing, arithmetic and recreation.