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Physical activity: An academic performance enhancer

By: Laura Matsuda

It is a known fact that physical activity is not only important physiologically but also socially, as it is able to create bonds between people, however research has shown it is able to do much more. Studies show that physical activity enhances academic performance, so how does it work, and how can students take advantage of that?

One study done on the topic was by the University of Illinois where 500 students ranging from third to fifth grade were assessed physically and their fitness level was measured. In order to have a better idea of their cognitive skills, they took a standardised test formulated by the University. The results of the study suggested that more physically fit students have a higher chance of getting higher grades and committing fewer mistakes. Furthermore, the CDC (US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention) also states that physical activity is able to improve concentration and it improves one’s behaviour, making those who are physically active more well-rounded students.

Positive results seen in studies happen due to the fact that physical activity is able to increase oxygen flow to the brain, which is able to improve cognitive and verbal performance, the number of neurotransmitters increase, which is able to aid in concentration and memory, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein that is highly important for maintaining neurons alive, is increased, which maintains neurons alive in areas of the brain that are related to learning and memory.

Mental health and academic performance go hand in hand, as research has proven that students with struggling mental health have less motivation, lower grades on average and oftentimes drop out of school. Physical activity is able to improve mental health and mood, as exercise releases endorphins and serotonin and is able to reduce the number of negative thoughts. By exercising, academic performance can therefore be boosted, as mental health will improve as well.

According to the WHO, children and teenagers ages 5-17 require on average 60 minutes of aerobic exercise per day and anaerobic exercise on three days of the week.

How can students take advantage of the benefits of physical activity?

It is not necessary to do 60 minutes of exercise at once, instead, it is possible to spread out those minutes throughout the day. Exercise does not necessarily mean sports, therefore jogging, walking and taking stairs count as exercise. Simple changes to one’s daily routine is able to improve physical fitness and allow the person to feel the benefits of exercise. Students can do exercises or play sports they enjoy in their free time or even make time for exercise as a way to relieve stress and consequently, improve their mental health and academic performance.

Aside from providing physical benefits, physical activity is able to improve mental health and academic performance. Students can incorporate exercise into their daily routines to benefit from it and, everything considered, schools can also raise awareness on the importance of exercise as a way to improve their student’s academic results and improve their overall health.


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