Direct link found between exercise and pupils' grades

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Researchers from the Universities of Strathclyde and Dundee have discovered that pupils’ exam grades improve in direct correlation with the amount of regular exercise they do.

Whether they are playing sport or cycling to school, teenagers’ academic performance is boosted by doing regular physical exercise.

Researchers from the Universities of Strathclyde and Dundee have discovered that pupils’ exam grades improve in direct correlation with the amount of regular exercise they do.

In particular, moderate to vigorous physical exercise helps girls to achieve better results in science.

The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, is based on a study of nearly 5,000 children who were born in the early 1990s and have been tracked throughout their education. 

At the age of 11 the intensity and duration of the children’s daily exercise were measured for periods of between three and seven days.

The results showed that 11-year-old boys clocked up an average of 29 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a day while girls did 18 minutes – both significantly less than the recommended 60 minutes.

Their academic performance in English, maths and science was then formally assessed at the ages of 11, 13 and 15 or 16. 

Factors like birth weight, whether the child had reached puberty and socio-economic factors were all adjusted for.

The researchers’ analysis showed that at the age of 11, better academic performance was linked to the amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity the children had done. 

The youngsters’ academic performance at 13 and at GCSE was also linked to the amount of exercise they did at 11. 

Their GCSE results showed a link to the amount of physical activity they undertook – with an increase in performance for every additional 17 minutes a day done by boys and every extra 12 minutes a day by girls.

The study, led by Dundee lecturer Dr Josephine Booth and Strathclyde researcher Professor John Reilly, has prompted the authors to speculate on the impact on children’s academic results if they increased their physical exercise to the recommended 60 minutes a day.

They said: “If moderate to vigorous physical activity does influence academic attainment this has implications for public health and education policy by providing schools and parents with a potentially important stake in meaningful and sustained increases in physical activity.”


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