How Fitness Improves Math Skills In Kids
There’s a lot of talk in the news about how our kids are lagging behind in academic skills when compared with other countries.
We seem to score pretty average. I think we cracked the top 20 in only one category on the PISA tests in 2013. Which isn’t horrible, but coming from a country that expects great things, we shouldn’t be satisfied. We definitely have room for improvement.
When this is mentioned in the media you usually don’t hear anything about how fitness can help our kids learn. Exercise has been shown to improve memory and learning, and yet it isn’t a part of the national conversation.
Math is one of those important skills where we’re lacking behind other developed nations. And a new study shows that fitness and math skills actually go hand in hand.
Making the Grade
The study – published in the journal PloS One – shows that 9 and 10-year-olds that are more aerobically fit have thinner gray matter than kids of the same age that are out of shape.
Don’t be alarmed. A thinner gray matter may sound like a bad thing at first, but for kids it’s okay. It’s a normal maturing process in the development of a child’s brain.
Other studies have shown that this process is also linked to better reasoning and thinking skills. In fact, this is actually the first study to offer evidence that fitness can aid math skills by helping develop the brain structures needed for number crunching.
One of the leads of the study, Chaddock-Heyman, commented:
“We show, for the first time, that aerobic fitness may play a role in this cortical thinning. In particular, we find that higher-fit 9- and 10-year-olds show a decrease in gray-matter thickness in some areas known to change with development, specifically in the frontal, temporal and occipital lobes of the brain.”
The researchers took 48 kids and were tested for fitness (using an oxygen test). Half of the kids were 70% or more fit than others their age. The other half of the kids were only 30% as fit or lower than others their age. Their brains were scanned and they were all tested in math, reading, and spelling skills.
The researchers noticed differences in math skills and outer brain structures between the two groups. Basically, the thinner the gray matter, the better their math scores were in the kids who were fit.
While you might guess that other scores would be better as well, this wasn’t the case. The scientists didn’t notice any other associations between fitness and spelling or reading.
Fitness for Education
While you may hear a lot about child obesity in the news – and obesity of Americans – it has important implications in the classroom. Some studies have linked fitness and physical activity to better grades.
You don’t have to force kids to run a marathon or anything, but making sure that they stay active through engaging activities is a life skill we should probably be teaching all children. For health and mental prowess.
Researcher Chaddock-Heyman echoes this sentiment:
“These findings arrive at an important time. Physical activity opportunities during the school day are being reduced or eliminated in response to mandates for increased academic time. Given that rates of physical inactivity are rising, there is an increased need to promote physical activity.”
She continues by adding this:
“Schools are the best institutions to implement such health behavior practices, due to the number of children they reach on a daily basis.”
The researchers are currently undergoing studies to help prove a direct link between fitness, brain structure changes, and improved cognition.
Sounds like adding some physical-ness into the Common Core wouldn’t be such a bad idea.