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Schools should teach PE daily to boost children's brains, say researchers

By Deven Pamben    02 Jan 2018
Grey matter volume in regions of the brain influenced by physical fitness improved children’s academic performance, the study showed / Shutterstock
We appeal both to politicians, who make educational laws that are increasingly more focused on instrumental subjects, and to teachers, who are the final link in the chain, to teach physical education day after day
– Irene Esteban-Cornejo, University of Granada

Physical education should be taught in schools on a daily basis to help improve academic performance, a study has concluded.

Researchers at the University of Granada (UGR) in Spain found exercise boosted grey matter in regions of the brain that are important for functioning as well as for learning, motor and visual processes.

The study, published in Neuroimage, is part of the ActiveBrains project, which is a randomised clinical trial involving overweight or obese children, led by Francisco Ortega.

“Our work aims to answer questions such as whether the brains of children with better physical fitness are different from those of children with worse physical fitness and if this affects their academic performance,” Ortega said.

“The answer is short and forceful: yes, physical fitness in children is linked in a direct way to important brain structure differences, and such differences are reflected in the children's academic performance.”

The UGR study involved 100 overweight and obese children aged between eight and 11. Half took part in cardiovascular exercise for 90 minutes, at least three days a week.

Fitness levels were measured and brain volume recorded at the beginning and end of the experiment.

Researchers found that as fitness levels rose so did grey matter in seven parts of the brain. However, there was no change in the brains of the children who did no extra exercise.

According to Irene Esteban-Cornejo, the lead author of the paper, grey matter volume in regions of the brain influenced by physical fitness improves children’s academic performance.

She said: “We appeal both to politicians, who make educational laws that are increasingly more focused on instrumental subjects, and to teachers, who are the final link in the chain, to teach physical education day after day.

“School is the only entity that gathers every child in a mandatory way for a period of at least 10 years, and as such, it’s the ideal context for applying such recommendations.”

University of Granada  ActiveBrains  Francisco Ortega  Irene Esteban-Cornejo 
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