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It's All Connected! Fitness, Cognitive Function, & Academic Performance in Children-By Samira Sine

There's incredible pressure on today's youth to achieve academically. Standardized tests, long hours using tech and screens in classrooms have become the norm. But it comes at a cost. While there's no denying that education is one of the essential keys for student success and our society.

Research has shown that the question , are we doing enough to promote it for our children? In today’s interconnected world, our smartphones and tablets allow us instant access to troves of information. More than ever before, children are now able to learn from digital experiences. Technology has provided them with access to all the knowledge they need, including virtual contact with educators and peers. However, these digital classrooms could be harming the cognitive development of children.

While current technology has proven itself invaluable, one of the most harmful side effects of children being glued to their screens is the marked decrease in physical activity. This decrease in fitness affects their physical health and harms their academic performance.

Links Between Fitness and Cognitive Function

Research has shown a surprising and optimistic correlation between increased physical activity and cognitive performance. While more studies must be undertaken to fully understand this relationship, there have been positive findings. These studies indicate that physical activity is most beneficial for critical subjects like math and language arts—the foundation upon which all other learning begins.

In a landmark study by educators Carl Gabbard and Joel Barton, students were separated into groups that underwent physical activity engagement for various lengths of time. They were then given a set of 36 math problems and told to solve them. Of the different groups, the children who engaged in physical activity for longer than 50 minutes demonstrated increased academic performance while completing the math problems, regardless of gender.

This study has served as the foundation for other studies also looking to connect fitness, cognitive function, and academic performance. All the cumulative research supports the legitimacy of this link, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) demonstrate their belief in this data by recommending increased physical activity for children to improve their overall academic performance.

Another study by the National Institute of Health showed a classroom-based physical activity program was effective for increasing daily in-school physical activity and improving on-task behavior during academic instruction.

The research shows there are no adverse side effects from increased time spent performing physical activities. Instead, students who participate in increased physical activity often can stay focused for more extended periods, allowing them to be on-task and more productive.

Ways to Increase Physical Fitness Engagement

Even though research shows that increased physical activity is beneficial to cognitive development and academic achievement, policies deemphasize physical education in schools. A push has been made for increased instruction time and higher test scores instead. This, coupled with the increase in screen time among children, has led to an overall decrease in the amount of time spent being physically active. As you can imagine, this hurts our children’s academic achievement and their physical and emotional health.

So then there is the question, as a parent, what can you do to increase physical activity and improve your child’s academic performance?

1. Lead by example:

At Just For The Children, we love the James Baldwin quote," Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them."

Children often develop their parents’ habits, so show your child how you stay active.

2. Take family walks, biking, and hiking and start young!

Other activities count too! Gardening, mowing the lawn, washing the car, etc. Teach your children the value of volunteering and community by having them offer to walk an elderly neighbor’s dog, mow their lawn, or pick weeds. Help beautify the neighborhood by picking up trash you see on your walks. Paint a fence that could use some touching up. Anything that gets you and your children off the couch and away from technology is valuable. Your children also benefit by learning that they can make a difference while becoming healthy.

Get creative

Children are drawn to screens because they are entertaining. addictive and made to keep their attention as long as possible. When thinking of ways to be more active, get creative! The word “exercise” is unlikely to motivate children, but “fun” and “games” will.

A rousing outing of tag will get your blood flowing. Walk over to your local park or elementary school and play on the playground equipment. Grab a frisbee, football, or baseball and toss it around. Kick a soccer ball back and forth on the field. Hike the nearest state park and explore the great outdoors. The goal is to get your body moving and ensure that everyone has fun.

Combine learning and movement

By combining physical activity with educational opportunities, your child can reap the benefits of movement while simultaneously stimulating their brain. Take a walk around your neighborhood or a nearby park and search for specific plants, flowers, birds, or insects. Draw or take pictures of what you find, create a book, and label each picture with information about specific plants or animal life. Your children can add to the book over time and create a keepsake for the future. The possibilities are endless.


The clear correlation between increased physical activity and increased academic performance

shows why more focus should be placed on getting kids moving. Instead, policies have been enacted to double down on academic performance by cutting physical education from school schedules. So get involved in changing broad policy by signing our pledge. Its parents like yourselves that can get more policies in place to ensure children are moving, learning and achieving optimal health.



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