Physical Activity Shown to Improve Attention Span and Focus

As school districts adapt to shrinking budgets, physical education programs are being threatened, sometimes cut out entirely. This may be having a distinctly negative impact on students’ cognitive development and performance in the classroom.

Multiple studies have been released on the link between cognitive development in children and their physical activity, with new studies being conducted all the time. Statistics often agree on a positive correlation, resulting in a comprehensive set of suggestions for improving a child’s academic potential through physical exercise.

One study conducted at the University of Illinois divided 220 eight and nine year olds into two groups after a series of cognitive and physical tests. The control subjects in the study were told they were on a wait list and were instructed to exercise and learn as they normally would. The other group of 110 students was bused to the University of Illinois campus after school every day where they played organized games such as tag and soccer. The researchers also set up instructional sessions that involved teaching students how to dribble soccer balls better.

This after-school program was held each afternoon for nine months. Each student, when they attended, wore a heart rate monitor and pedometer. The data revealed that both male and female students ran more than two miles in each two-hour session.

After the nine-month program, both groups came together to repeat the cognitive and physical tests. Unsurprisingly, the group that was put in the after-school program performed better on the physical tests. The variable group also outperformed the control group on the cognitive tests, specifically in the area of attention inhibition. This skill dictates a person’s capability to filter useless and distracting information in order to complete a task efficiently. In terms of academic success, this allows students to focus on their work in the face of distractions in the classroom.

Students need to be given a well-rounded education that develops their bodies and minds, especially considering the relationship between the two. This proves to be a compelling argument for the proper funding of PE classes.


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