What are the connections between physical activity and learning?

Teachers generally acknowledge there are benefits of allowing our students to be physically active. To varying degrees we understand there are physical, mental and social benefits provided by physical activity but what about the contribution physical activity can make to our ability to learn?

Dr Nick Riley from the University of Newcastle explains the link between physical activity and academic performance in students.

A small Dutch study showed that students involved in maths and language lessons that also incorporated physical movement during those lessons outperformed students who did no physical activity during lessons. This improvement was seen in maths and spelling but not in reading.

The Guardian (Australian) website recently published an article discussing how physical activity can contribute to academic improvement.

The Western Australian Department of Sport and Recreation commissioned a review of the literature examining the relationship between participation in organised sport or physical activity and academic achievement. An article in 2010 (updated 2015) by Dr Karen Martin from the The University of Western Australia outlines the positive impact of physical activity on student cognitive function. These benefits included:

  • Improving memory
  • Behaviour
  • Concentration
  • Academic achievement

“The W.A. Department of Sport and Recreation review concluded that encouraging participation in organised sport or other strategies to increase children’s physical activity opportunities could result in improved health and academic outcomes.”

There are a number of traditional ways that schools provide opportunities to be active at school.

  • Recess and lunch – this does not garuntee all students are involved in physical activity but at least they have to get out of their seats.
  • Lunch time sports – for a select few the intensity and amount of activity on those days increases dramatically.
  • Physical education – regular physical activity approximately twice a week.

How though do we get students to be active at other times? What about those subjects where students traditionally sit for 50 minutes at a time?

Physical activity as part of a students school day is important and something we should take into account to improve our students ability to learn.

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