Just like other organs, the brain needs to be used regularly to be at its best. And new research suggests physical exercise is correlated with improved mental functions, too.
Researchers in Spain followed more than 2,000 children aged 6 to 18 for three years and looked at how physical fitness, motor skills and muscle strength related to academic performance. Fitness levels were assessed based on how efficiently people’s hearts and lungs respond during exercise—and when they compared the students’ fitness to their grades in math and language classes, as well as their overall GPA, the researchers found that the more fit kids had higher grades.
The scientists say theirs is the first study to look at the independent role that fitness can have on academic performance, and suggests that efforts to improve students’ grades may include not just intellectual but physical programs as well. Other studies have linked strong heart and lung function, for example, to better blood flow in the brain, which can help cognitive functions. Other benefits include the release of nerve growth factors that keep neural connections healthy and functioning properly.
“Promoting physical activity that involves aerobic exercise and motor tasks during the school years … may be important not only for health, but also for successful academic development,” the authors write in the Journal of Pediatrics. Another reason to keep gym class in school.