Now that children in BC are finally headed back to school, it’s the perfect time to consider what we can do help our children achieve academic success. You may be thinking that extra tutoring is the way to go, or gruelling homework schedules, maybe even bribes for A-grades. Well, you may be surprised to know that it is much easier (and more fun) than that.
STEP 1: EXERCISE
A study out of Finland found that high levels or physical activity were associated with early academic achievement, particularly in boys. Activities included walking or biking to school along with a physically active recess. This study looked at children from grades 1 to 3 and found that reading and arithmetic skills were best in those who had high levels of physical activity.
Another study out of the University of North Texas researched middle school students (grades 7-9) and found that cardiorespiratory fitness (heart and lungs) was the only factor that they consistently found to have a positive impact on both boys’ and girls’ grades In reading and math tests. Cardiorespiratory-focussed activities include running, swimming, cycling, soccer, basketball, skipping and other activities that raise one’s heart rate for a prolonged period of time.
Further, a study out of Spain looked at which aspects of physical fitness had the most benefits. They looked at cardiorespiratory capacity, muscle strength and motor ability to see how they affected the brain and influenced academic performance. As with the study from North Texas, they too found that cardiorespiratory capacity profoundly affected academic performance in children ages 6-18. They also found that better motor ability significantly improved academic benefits both when combined with cardio fitness and independently. Motor ability includes activities that require agility, coordination, and balance such as skating and skiing. Interestingly, muscular strength was not independently associated with academic performance.
Health Canada recommends kids get 1 hour of physical activity a day. Waking up 15 minutes earlier each day so you can walk or bike your kids to school is one small step towards that 60 minutes. Individual and team sports like soccer, swimming, basketball, or tennis, are fantastic ways to increase cardio fitness, build motor abilities and increase self-esteem. Finally, don’t under-estimate the benefits of free play. Ensuring your kids have free time in their schedule to hit the playground, play street hockey, or rustle up a game of tag may end up being more beneficial than those extra 30 minutes of arithmetic!
A research paper published in the Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences looked at multiple studies that focussed on nutrition and academic performance in school-age children. The research shows that a healthy, balanced diet improves brain capacity, maximizes cognitive capabilities and improves academic performance. Further, it revealed that having too much junk food and an overall unhealthy diet decreased academic performance by limiting the amount of information to the brain.
Nutrients play a critical role in synthesizing chemicals that help the brain function optimally and capitalize on cognitive capabilities. For example, one study showed that low levels of zinc in the diet affected memory by slowing the brains ability to recall information. Low iron levels may lead to short attention span which also affects recall capabilities.
Much research has been done on the effect of food on the brain, in particular, the role of synapses and how food can benefit or harm their plasticity, or flexibility. A synapse is essentially the bridge between neurons and aides in vital functions, such as learning, retention and memory. Research has showed that too much junk food and excess caloric intake can disrupt the plasticity of the synaptic relays to neurons. Whereas, Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to support synaptic plasticity and positively affect the brain functions related to learning and memory. Low levels of Omega 3 fatty acids have also been associated with an increased risk of attention-deficit disorder, dyslexia, depression, as well as other mental health disorders.
If you need some pointers in ensuring your child is meeting his nutritional needs have a look at these previous blog posts or feel free to book me for a consultation:
http://nutritionsavvy.ca/back-to-school-lunches http://nutritionsavvy.ca/skimpy-school-time-eating/ http://nutritionsavvy.ca/cultivate-a-healthy-feeding-relationship-with-your-child/ http://nutritionsavvy.ca/feeding-relationship-part-2/
THE BOTTOM LINE
While following these two steps may not guarantee your child gets into Harvard, it will certainly stack the cards in their favour. Eating a well-balanced diet complete with all the food groups, limiting junk food and ensuring your kids are running, jumping, and playing their way through a full hour of the day, will not only improve your child’s chance of academic success but will also lead to a healthier, happier, more confident child.
Irene Esteban-Cornejo, et al. Independent and Combined Influence of the Components of Physical Fitness on Academic Performance in Youth. The Journal of Pediatrics – August 2014 (Vol. 165, Issue 2, Pages 306-312.e2, DOI: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2014.04.044)
Florence MD1, Asbridge M, Veugelers PJ. Diet quality and academic performance. J Sch Health. 2008 Apr;78(4):209-15; doi: 10.1111/j.1746-1561.2008.00288.x.
Haapala et al.’Associations of Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior with Academic Skills ? A Follow-Up Study among Primary School Children,’ , PLOS ONE, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0107031, published 10 September 2014, Abstract.
Rausch R (2013) Nutrition and Academic Performance in School-Age Children The Relation to Obesity and Food Insufficiency. J Nutr Food Sci 3:190. doi: 10.4172/2155-9600.1000190
Wolpert S, Wheeler M (2008) Food as brain medicine. UCLA Magazine Online.Share This: