Author: Christin Sander, Health Writer
Exercise isn't just for physical health. Research has shown that regular exercise boosts brain function and can lead to better school and job performance. Exercise oxygenates the blood, improves cognitive function and may even boost the production of brain cells. In addition, children who participate in regular physical activity are less stressed, sleep better and focus better in the classroom.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans publication recommends that children and adolescents exercise one hour a day most days of the week. According to a University of Georgia study evaluating physical education programs, "only two states followed the guidelines at the middle school level and no states had strong enough regulations at the high school level." Although many states had some form of physical education requirement, the study found none of them reached an appropriate threshold.
Many schools are decreasing physical education programs to focus more on academics in an attempt to improve standardized testing scores. This may be the wrong approach, however, since research is supporting the idea that exercise may improve test scores even if time inside the classroom decreases.
A California State University study found schools that included a structured fitness program had better standardized test scores than schools that offered little or no physical education.
How Exercise Improves Grades
Blood carries nutrients and oxygen to all body tissues. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, improving cognitive function. It also increases levels of BDNF, a protein that promotes growth of new neurons and synapses in the brain. BDNF is active in the hippocampus and cortex, areas that are important for long-term memory, learning and critical thinking.
Endurance exercises like distance running boost the number of memory and learning neurons in the brain. Studies in both humans and animals have shown improvement on cognition tests after several weeks of consistent exercise.
There are also behavioral benefits to exercise that may lead to a better learning environment in the classroom. Regular exercise has been shown to release stress and improve behavior. Students with ADHD in particular were found to have a better ability to concentrate for longer periods of time when regular physical activity was part of the school day.
Children who exercise regularly are healthier and miss less school. More time in the classroom can, of course, lead to improved school performance. Regular, moderate exercise boosts immunity, making colds and flu easier to avoid.
Grade enhancement from exercise isn't just for kids, either; college students also benefit from the practice. Researchers at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan tracked the exercise habits and grades of 266 college students and found that the students who participated regularly in vigorous physical activity had higher grade point averages than their fellow students. Moderate exercise 20 to 30 minutes prior to an exam can improve test results.
In addition to exercise, there are natural remedies that can also help boost school performance. Herbal and homeopathic remedies like Focus Formula and Brightspark can help increase attention span and improve memory and focus, leading to better grades.