Why Physical Fitness Builds Kids' Math Muscles

Ever noticed how in elementary school, the sporty kids are also the smart ones? You don’t really have the “dumb jock” cultural stereotype there – that’s something we grow into later when we allow our kids to skip class for practice. But stereotypes aside, what’s the phenomenon all about?  Why are the athletes at the top of their class?

It’s about the grey matter! A network of brain regions involved in learning arithmetic – and everything else – at a young age. Exercise stimulates the thinning process of grey matter, and that contributes to more successful learning.

But wait, “thinning grey matter” doesn’t sound good – in fact, it sounds a little too much like hair loss. In this case, thinning really means sculpting the neuron connections to strengthen the activities that are the most useful in our world, and pruning away the unnecessary ones. It’s part of the natural growth of a child’s brain and physical exercise helps.

High and Low Fit Children

Of course there’s a recent study that proves it, otherwise we’d have to rely on the old saying, “A sound body makes a sound mind.” Researchers at The Beckman Institute for Science and Technology have identified the role of exercise in arithmetic and math achievement. High-fit children who were tested along with low-fit children have “more efficient brain activation patterns,” the study discovered.

Kids who exercise more also showed better “white matter integrity” – which means that their brains were better able to carry information from one region to another. Translated further, that means they solve problems quicker.

All Math and No Play Makes Jack . . .

So send your kids out to play hard before they do their arithmetic. And maybe check at school to see when that subject is being taught. It will be to your kid’s advantage if arithmetic comes right after their physical education class.

But wait. There’s no P.E. class anymore? That’s something to think about in light of this brain function discovery.  Research study co-author Chris Hillman puts it this way, “Physical activity opportunities during the school day are being reduced or eliminated in response to mandates for increased academic time.” Hmmm…seems counterintuitive, given the study.  Regardless, that means the burden of scheduling physical play falls on you.  Make sure your children get at least a half an hour of real physical play daily – and have them do their soccer drills as well as their math drills, without compromising either.

And What about Languages and Social Skills?

Christopher Bergland, author of The Athlete’s Way, and world-class endurance athlete, adds that physical activity also increases children’s language arts skills. Kids who exercise and play hard regularly are able to read better, and also de-code confusing syntax in sentences faster and more easily.  

Physical activity enables a flexible brain that puts its energy where it’s most needed to comprehend every kind of reading material.

Bergland also points out that high-fit kids have a more developed sense of unity with nature and a sense of responsibility to help preserve the environment. “The children also reported feeling awestruck and humbled by nature's power, such as storms, while also feeling happy and a sense of belonging in the world.”

Who would have thought that playing games and sports would help develop math and reading skills, and also produce happier children?  

Do We Really Need A Long-Term Study?

The researchers at Beckman Institute are currently designing a longitudinal study that will give more details on the relationship between physical activity training and scholastic achievement. But do mothers really need that? We know intuitively that kids who jump, play, run, climb trees, and swim whenever they get the chance are healthier and happier. And now we know they’re also better at math and reading.  I don’t think we need to wait for another study to send our kids out right now to play hard and have fun!

Do you have a high-fit child? How do they do at math?

Tags : education   school   math   health   development   sports   fitness   

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