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Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
In a new study published Tuesday in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, UK researchers found an increase in regular exercise is linked to improved academic performance amongst teens. The association was particularly notable for the apparent benefits that exercise confers on girls in science subjects.
The academic improvements were seen over the long term, with the results indicating a dose-response effect, meaning more intensive exercise produced greater effects on test results.
In the study, which included about 5,000 British children, for every extra 17 minutes boys exercised and every extra 12 minutes girls exercised, researchers saw a marked academic improvement. Children who exercised regularly not only performed better at English, math and science at age 11, but also at 13 and in their exams at 16, the study researchers found.
While the additional physical activity was seen particularly beneficial to girls’ performance on science subjects, the authors said this could be simply a random finding or it could represent gender differences in the impact of physical activity on the brain.
“This is an important finding, especially in light of the current UK and European Commission policy aimed at increasing the number of females in science subjects,” the authors wrote in their report.
In reaching their conclusion, the UK scientists considered the children’s birth weight, mother’s age at delivery of the child, fish oil intake and smoking during the pregnancy, whether the child had reached puberty, current weight, and socioeconomic status as confounding factors that were accounted for.
In considering their findings, the authors wondered what might happen if the children increased the amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity they did to the recommended 60 minutes per day.
“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,” they concluded.
They said since the study found an association between every 15 minutes of exercise and improved academic performance by an average of about a quarter of a grade – 60 minutes of daily exercise could improve their scores by a full grade; for example, from a B to an A.
The researchers concede this was pure speculation since very few children approached this amount of daily-recommended exercise.
“Physical activity is more than just important for your physical health,” study author Josie Booth, a psychologist from Dundee University, told BBC News. “There are other benefits and that is something that should be especially important to parents, policy-makers and people involved in education.”
The study author called for additional research that might be able to shed more light on their findings, which could have important implications for public health and education policies.