Want your teen to do well in school? Encouraging him or her to hit the gym (or track, court or pavement) could help, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of Dundee, University of Bristol and University of Georgia found that the more time teens spend exercising, the better they tend to do on tests for English, math and science.
The study included data from 4,755 youths in the U.K., part of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, who were followed as they took national exams in English, math and science at ages 11, 13 and 15/16. Researchers took note of their amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity, which was monitored with accelerometers over a three-to-seven day period when they were age 11.
They found that the more active the child was at age 11, the greater their academic performance was during the tests in the following years. This held true even after taking into account other factors such as socioeconomic status, weight and the child's puberty status.
While the researchers only identified an association between physical activity and academic performance, they did note potential reasons for the link. For instance, "studies have revealed relationships between PA [physical activity] and relevant cognitive outcomes such as measures of executive function, as well as studies suggesting that PA might increase time 'on task' in class and reduce classroom 'problem behavior,'" they wrote in the British Journal of Sports Medicine study.
Previously, a Michigan State University study showed that physical fitness -- including strength, endurance and flexibility -- was linked with academic performance in middle-schoolers. Specifically, the most physically fit youths had standardized test scores that were nearly 30 percent higher than the most sedentary of their peers, NBC News reported.
And of course, it's not just physical exercise that could improve performance in school -- research has even shown that mental tactics, specifically mindfulness, could help college students do better on quizzes after listening to a lecture.
Also on HuffPost:
It Sharpens Thinking
Earlier this year, Dartmouth researchers <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/31/exercise-makes-you-smarter-adhd-research_n_1528383.html">added support to mounting evidence about the way that exercise affects learning</a> and mental acuity: it boosts the production of “brain derived neurotrophic factor" -- or BDNF – a protein that is thought to help with mental acuity, learning and memory.
It May Alleviate Childhood ADHD Symptoms
In the same Dartmouth study, the researchers discovered that, thanks to the BDNF boost, exercise also helped to <a href="http://www.wired.com/playbook/2012/05/exercise-memory-and-adhd/">alleviate ADHD-like symptoms in juvenile rats</a>. Since BDNF is involved in the brain's development and growth of new cells, the effect was more profound on the younger rats, with their still-developing brains and more rapid cell turnover, compared to adult rats.
It Helps You Learn New Tricks
Even one exercise session can help you retain physical skills by enhancing what's commonly known as "muscle memory" or "motor memory," according to <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3433433/">new research published in <em>PlosOne</em>.</a> <a href="http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/26/how-exercise-can-help-you-master-new-skills/">As the New York <em>Times</em> reported</a>, men who were taught to follow a complicated pattern on a computer and subsequently exercised were better able to remember the pattern in subsequent days than the men who didn't exercise after the initial squiggle test.
It Supports Problem-Solving
In one study, mice that exercised by running not only generated new neurons, but those neurons lit up when the mice performed unfamiliar tasks like <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/magazine/how-exercise-could-lead-to-a-better-brain.html?pagewanted=all">navigating a new environment</a>.
It Helps Alleviate Symptoms Of Depression
When you exercise, your pituitary gland releases endorphins to help mitigate the physical stress and pain you are experiencing. But those endorphins may play a more important and longer-lasting role: they could help alleviate symptoms of depression, <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression-and-exercise/MH00043">according to a Mayo Clinic report</a>.
It Reduces Stress
Although exercising raises our levels of cortisol -- the hormone that causes physical stress and is even associated with long-term memory impairment -- its overall effect is one of a stress reducer. That's because exercise increases the <a href="http://www.hormones.gr/57/article/article.html">body's threshold for cortisol</a>, making you more inured to stressors.
It Helps Delay Age-Associated Memory Loss
As we get older, an area of the brain called the hippocampus shrinks. That's why age is associated with memory loss across the board. However, profound memory loss -- such as in dementia and Alzheimer's disease patients -- is also contributed to by accelerated hippocampus shrinking. Luckily, the hippocampus is also an area of the brain that generate new neurons throughout a lifespan. And, <a href="http://www.npr.org/2011/02/21/133777018/aerobic-exercise-may-improve-memory-in-seniors">the research shows</a>, exercise promotes new neural growth in this area.