Does exercise boost exam results?

Does exercise boost exam results?

Next time you have a big exam, walking there might make a real difference to your score.


We all know the stereotypes of the “Jocks” and the “Brains”. Some kids like sport, some kids like reading and academics. However, there could be a stronger connection between academic smarts and physical fitness that was previously assumed.


Regular exercise helps children improve in the core subjects Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, health experts have claimed.


Those who took part in a sport at least three times a week were more likely to do well in exams. Pupils who were least active did poorly in national curriculum tests, the Health Education Unit at Exeter University found. Angela Balding, who led the Exeter University study, claimed it was the first time a clear link could be claimed between sporting activity and academic success. Many had believed there was no connection at all.


“There is a definite link between those who are active three or four times a week and those youngsters who do better in the classroom,” she said. “The research that’s going into brain activity at the moment suggests the reason may be that in those kids who are active, more oxygen gets to the brain. The brain is then better equipped to take more in and be receptive to new things.”


Another 2010 experiment published by the University of Illinois asked children, aged 9 and 10, to run on a treadmill. Afterwards, the children were sorted into categories of fitness and asked to complete a series of cognitive challenges. The children’s brains were scanned in order to measure the volume of specific areas. The fitter children performed better on the tests.


Interestingly, the fit children had significantly larger ‘basal ganglia’, a key part of the brain that aids in maintaining attention and ‘executive control’: the ability to coordinate actions and thoughts crisply. This shows the profound difference regular exercise can make on how the brain operates and academic attainment.


These findings are likely to increase pressure on the Government to make two hours of PE compulsory in primary schools. Many people fear that PE is being squeezed out of school timetables by the campaign to improve English and maths standards. If these findings are to be trusted, restricting PE to improve these subjects could be counter-productive.


Due to a number of factors including the popularity of video games, many young people in Great Britain and the United States are simply not getting enough exercise on a weekly basis. As childhood is the time when lifetime habits are formed, it is vital they factor exercise into their weekly routine. Recent findings from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention show that roughly a quarter of children participate in zero physical activity outside school.


This is detrimental not only for their health and happiness, but for their academic standards too. We need to make sure there is enough time for physical exercise factored into the school day, with cheap and available extracurricular activities actively encouraged.


The University of Illinois found that ‘just 20 minutes of walking’ before a test raised children’s scores, even if children were otherwise unfit or overweight.

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