Regular physical activity at schools: children perform better in math

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Dr. Amika Singh.

Children who attend schools that offer extra physical activity programs a couple of times a week over a longer period of time have better performance scores on math.

This is the results of a literature-based study carried out by the Department Public and Occupational Health of the Amsterdam UMC, together with 12 international experts.

Says researcher Amika Singh: “Physical activity programs seem only effective if they are carried out for a longer period of time and with a certain frequency. This is why we plead for investments by governments to make the implementation of these kinds of physical activity programs happen.”

Singh and her colleagues publish their research today in the renowned journal British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Do physical activity programs lead to better school performance? With this question, Singh and her colleagues analyzed the results of 58 studies on the effect of physical activity programs on cognitive performance (e.g. attention or working performance) and academic performance (e.g. grades, GAP). The researchers found that only 11 out of 58 studies met the quality requirements for the predicate ‘high quality’.

Positive effect

The researchers found no convincing evidence for a positive effect of physical activity programs on cognitive performance and general academic performance. What they did find was that children who frequently attend physical activity programs at school over a longer period of time performed better in math tests. The programs where positive effects on children’s math performance were reported ran for approximately 2–3 school years and activities were offered 3–5 times per week.

Slow and steady wins the race

In many other school-based programs that the researchers included, children were less active, and effects were measured after shorter periods of time, e.g. after three months. The researchers advise government, education, research and funding bodies to invest in long-term and good quality research on the effects of physical activity on school performance.

The current attention that is paid to this area of research is encouraging and reflects the urgency of the need to increase physical activities at school. What is really exciting is the chance to secure a ‘double whammy’: active students are healthier, and they perform better in maths.


Svensk sammanfattning

De viktigaste resultaten om regelbunden fysisk aktivitet i skolan visar att barn som går på skolor som erbjuder extra fysisk aktivitet ett par gånger i veckan under en längre tid presterar bättre i matematik än barn som har skolans ordinarie idrottsundervisning.

Slutsatsen är att det finns starka belägg för positiva effekter på matematikprestationer av utökad fysisk aktivitet i skolan.

Forskaren Amika Singh: “Fysiska aktivitetsprogram verkar bara vara effektiva om de genomförs under en längre tid och med en viss frekvens. Därför rekommenderar vi att regeringar satsar på att införa sådana typer av fysiska aktivitet.” De interventioner där positiva effekter på barnens matematikresultat rapporterades pågick 2–3 läsår och eleverna hade fysisk aktivitet 3–5 gånger per vecka.

Leder fysisk aktivitet till bättre skolprestationer? Med denna fråga analyserade Singh och hennes kollegor resultaten i 58 studier om effekten av fysiska aktivitetsprogram på kognitiv prestanda (t ex uppmärksamhet eller arbetsminne) och akademisk prestation (t ex betyg).

Forskarnas analys visade att endast 11 av de inkluderade 58 interventionsstudierna uppfyllde kvalitetskraven för ”hög kvalitet” och i dessa fanns inte tillräckligt övertygande belägg för en positiv effekt av fysisk aktivitet på kognition eller generell akademisk prestation. Fler kontrollerade långvariga studier av hög kvalitet efterlyses därför som kan belysa effekter av fysisk aktivitet på skolprestationer. Den nuvarande uppmärksamhet som detta forskningsområde nu åtnjuter är uppmuntrande och speglar hur angeläget behovet av att öka fysisk aktivitet i skolan är.

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