The next time your children want to play outside for an extra 30 minutes, you might want to let them. More exercise now could lead to better grades in the future.
A recent study looked at 11-year-old children's activity levels. They compared the amount of moderate to intense exercise they got with their test scores years later.
The researchers found that the children who got the most exercise scored significantly higher on tests. For girls, science scores in particular improved.
The authors of the study suggested that the findings may give schools a reason to stress the importance of exercise.
Dr. J.N. Booth of the School of Psychological sciences and Health, University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, led the research to see if physical activity affected academic success for young people.
The recommended amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity for school-age children is one hour per day, although few children actually get that much exercise, according to the researchers.
Previous studies have shown that regular physical activity is important for preventing obesity. This new study looked at evidence on whether it could help improve cognitive health as well.
The researchers used 4,755 children from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, or ALSPAC. The results gave them data on health and development with children.
For the study, 11-year-old children wore devices called accelerometers, which measured the intensity and duration of their physical activity throughout the day. The children wore the devices for seven days.
The researchers used scores from the children's national tests that were administered when they were 11, 13 and 16 years old. The tests measured English, math and science knowledge and skills.
Information about the children's parents, birth weight, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and more was also included in the study.
The researchers found that the boys engaged in moderate to vigorous exercise for an average of 29 minutes per day, while the girls exercised for 18 minutes per day.
Additionally, a greater amount of moderate to vigorous exercise at age 11 was associated with better performance for English, math and science.
By the last academic test at age 16, boys experienced an increase in performance for every 17 minutes per day that they exercised, and girls saw better academic scores for every 12 minutes per day of exercise.
According to the researchers, girls' scores in science seemed to benefit especially.
The researchers suggested that an increase in physical activity could be tied to better scores on tests because exercise has been linked to better brain function and staying on task.
The authors of the study said that it had limitations, because it only looked at students from a particular location and some of the students' data was not included because they did not complete the study. However, the researchers emphasized that the large sample size and long-term nature of the study strengthen the study's findings.
They concluded that physical education could benefit both students' physical health and their academic success. The researchers suggested that the study should give schools a reason to encourage exercise.
The study was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine on October 21.
The research was funded by the UK Medical Research Council, the University of Bristol, the BUPA Foundation, and the Wellcome Trust. The authors disclosed no competing interests.