A study from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign led by Lauren Raine investigated the link between physical fitness and memorization and learning abilities for school-aged children. Her team found that students with higher levels of physical fitness did better on a memorization task. These results indicate that exercise should be a part of a typical school day.

The researchers evaluated 48 children, aged nine or ten. The participants consisted of children in either the top 30% of their age group based on a physical fitness test or in the bottom 30% based on the same test. The researchers asked the children to participate in a memorization task—learning the names and locations of fake places on a map. Some of the children were tested on the information as they studied while others studied and tested later. The children in better physical health were better at recalling what they had memorized.

More pronounced differences emerged between the high- and low-fitness groups when the researchers examined the results of the students who studied alone. The fitter students performed better after studying alone than when testing and studying were interspersed. This is in contrast to findings from previous studies that demonstrated improved recall skills in children when testing and study were combined. The work from Raine and her colleagues suggests that a child’s fitness level may influence his or her learning style and that aerobic fitness can boost learning and memory skills for school-aged children.

Future research on the subject may focus on how these factors affect children’s neural processes during learning.

This research also suggests that fitness programs in schools may be even more important than previously thought. The authors conclude that, “reducing or eliminating physical education in schools, as is often done in tight financial times, may not be the best way to ensure educational success among our young people.”

This research is published in the open access journal PLOS One.

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