Physical fitness leads to better grades

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Researchers have found a strong link between physical activities and academic performance. Picture: Anthony Omuya

Researchers have found a strong link between physical activities and academic performance. Picture: Anthony Omuya 

By Christabel Ligami

Posted  Friday, February 17   2012 at  10:37

How well children perform in the classroom is determined by how physically active they are, says researchers.

According to the researchers from VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam, exercise helps cognition by increasing blood and oxygen flow to the brain.

The study said this could be because physical activity also reduces stress and improves moods, making children more likely to behave in the classroom.

The aim of the study was to look at the relationship between physical activity and academic performance because of concerns that pressure to improve children’s school marks could mean they spend more time in the classroom and less time doing physical activity.

Philomene Ndambuki, a Child psychologist in Nairobi said that academic performance cannot be treated in isolation of all other tenets of growth and development.

These development tenets include physical, social, emotional, moral and intellectual areas of development.

“Both the home and the school must play a positive role in maximising the development tenents. Depending on the natural or biological endowment of each child, they should perform better in their academics when the tenets are observed,” said Dr Ndambuki adding that the development tenets must synchronise positively.

She said that physically fit students are less likely to miss school, partake in risky behaviors, get pregnant, or attempt suicide, which are all associated with better outcomes in school

According to Dr Ndambuki, academic performance is used broadly to describe different factors that may influence student success in school.

These factors include cognitive skills, attention or concentration in class, memory, verbal ability; academic behaviours like conduct, attendance, time spent on a task, completion of homework; and academic achievements like standardised test scores or grades.

John Ndirangu, a pediatrician at Kenyatta Hospital, Nairobi, says physical activity improves circulation, increases blood flow to the brain, and raises endorphin levels, which all help to reduce stress, improve mood and attitude, and calm children. Thus physically active students may also do better academically. 

“Exercise could benefit cognition through increased blood and oxygen flow to the brain, which increases norepinephrine hormone levels and endorphins,” said Dr Ndirangu.

Norepinephrine works alongside adrenaline to give the body sudden energy in times of stress, known as the “fight or flight” response.

Endorphins are substances formed within the body that naturally relieve pain and are involved in controlling the body’s response to stress.

“These increased levels lower a child’s stress levels and improves their mood, whilst increasing growth factors that help create new nerve cells and support synaptic plasticity.”

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