One of the most important aspects of a good education is having a healthy body. The best way to achieve this is by staying physically active, which helps improve cognitive function and academic performance. Fitness has been shown to help children learn better in many ways:
Exercise Can Improve Learning
Aerobic exercise has been shown to improve cognitive function in children and adolescents, including memory, processing speed, attention, and academic achievement.1 A recent study of 5th and 6th graders found that those who participated in a 12-week after-school program of physical activity (including running, playing soccer, and doing other activities) had better reading scores than those who did not participate.2
Exercise Can Improve Students’ Mental Health
Physical activity has also been shown to improve mental health in children and adolescents. Exercise releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects and can help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.3 In fact, exercise is sometimes recommended as a treatment for mental health problems.4
Our students face enormous stress in the classroom and their lives, including peer pressure, work overload, and high-stakes testing. Exercise controls the emotional and physical feelings of stress, and it also works at the cellular level. Physical activity is a natural way to prevent the negative consequences of stress because it can ward off the ill effects of chronic stress and reverse them. In addition, studies show people who add physical activity to their lives become more socially active, which boosts confidence and helps establish and maintain social connections.
Anxiety and Panic Disorders
Dr. Ratey defines anxiety as a natural reaction to a threat, but worrying when there’s no real threat, to the point where one can’t function normally, is an anxiety disorder. Panic is the most intense form of anxiety, and I’ve witnessed my students having panic attacks during tests and cooperative learning situations, or sometimes just from the general pressures of school.
Spark points out that the majority of studies show aerobic exercise significantly reduces symptoms of anxiety disorders. Through exercise, people learn to alleviate anxiety and rebuild their confidence. Dr. Ratey points out that exercise reroutes the brain’s circuits, reduces muscle tension, and teaches a different outcome to an anxiety-provoking situation, ultimately setting an anxious person free from their worrisome tendencies.
Aerobic exercise is known to have a positive impact on depressive symptoms. Studies suggest that endorphins produced in the brain during exercise contribute to a general feeling of well-being. Exercise also boosts dopamine, which improves mood and jump-starts the attention span. Thirty minutes of moderate exercise a few days a week can do wonders for students who suffer from depressive moods.
School can be an especially excruciating environment for students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) because of the need to sit still, face forward, and listen. Dr. Ratey says structured exercise—in the form of martial arts, ballet, skateboarding, or gymnastics, for example—is one of the best treatment strategies for ADHD.
The combination of challenging both the brain and body is even better than just aerobic activity alone because the technicality of those sports activates brain areas that “control balance, timing, sequencing, evaluating consequences, switching, error correction, fine motor adjustment, inhibition, and, of course, intense focus and concentration.”
All About On Fire Fitness & Physical Therapy
On Fire Fitness & Physical Therapy has one mission: promoting fitness, health and lifestyle changes we all need to stay happy and healthy well into our senior years. Starting small, focusing on one behavior at a time and support from others can help you achieve your exercise or other health-related goals. Making a lifestyle change can be challenging, especially when you want to transform many things at once. But we know, the hardest step in climbing to the top of a mountain is the first one.
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