The benefits of participating in sport are widely documented. The health and physical gains are clear but there is good evidence to suggest that physical activity can also improve mental wellbeing and academic performance.
The human brain is like a muscle and just like all of our other muscles, it grows with exercise. Regular physical activity not only promotes the growth of new brain cells and improves brain function, but it is also thought to enhance memory and thinking cells. All of these benefits can only ever have a positive impact on academic performance.
Let’s uncover some of the more interesting ways that physical activity can improve academic performance.
- Enhances memory and thinking skills. Research conducted by the University of British Columbia identified that regular aerobic exercise (cardiovascular activity that gets the heart pumping) appears to increase the size of the brain’s hippocampus. This is the area of the brain that is responsible for learning and memory.
- Stimulates the growth and health of brain cells. Exercise is known to stimulate the release of chemicals in the brain that improve the health of existing brain cells as well as enhance the growth of new brain cells. Research from UCLA also found that physical activity increased growth factors in the brain.
- Reduces stress and anxiety. Indirectly, exercise is thought to have a significant positive influence on mood and sleep. People who suffer from stress or anxiety are more likely to encounter issues with cognitive impairment. To allow the brain to function at its full potential, it is vitally important that we all take positive steps to improve our mental wellbeing. This is especially important at a time when so many young people suffer from mental-health issues.
- Improves brain function. Physical activity has a direct impact on the amount of oxygen that is pumped to the brain – allowing for a more nourishing environment for brain cells to thrive. Exercise also helps to process information which can enable us to understand concepts better. If children have a good understanding of the principles and concepts being taught in the classroom they are more likely to succeed academically. It is not enough that a child simply remembers a selection of facts, they need to know the content.
- Improves concentration. Participating in physical activity can also help children stay focused and improve their attention spans. Studies have shown that students who participated in daily sport activities over a 12-month period became better at multi-tasking, ignoring distractions and retaining information.
- Sparks creativity. Recently, we discussed the World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs Report, which placed ‘creativity’ as one of the top three skills required to thrive in the 2020 workforce. One way to enhance creativity is through physical exercise. In 2014, psychologists found that walking improved divergent thinking – the idea-generating component of creative thinking.
- Increases your IQ. Not only is sport a smart thing to do, it can also make you smarter. Studies have found convincing links between cardiovascular health and IQ test scores. Interestingly, adolescents aged 15 to 18 have been found to increase their IQ test results after improving their cardiovascular fitness.
While many people are aware that sport and exercise can improve our mood, and give us more energy throughout the day, the benefits to the cognitive function of the brain are not as widely known. It has become clear that exercise is one of the most important ways of getting the most out of our brain.
At Esperance Anglican Community School, our students are well equipped to reach their full academic potential if participation in sport has anything to do with the matter – which, quite clearly, it does. Our students happily participate in a range of sporting pursuits, through a rich and active co-curricular program.
In just the last few weeks, students have travelled throughout the state in their sporting endeavours. Our girls have travelled to Kalgoorlie to participate in an annual netball tournament; all students participated in the Inter-House cross country competition, with some going on to represent our school at the Inter-School competition; junior boys played in a footy tournament organised by the School; and students are currently very busy representing the school in a range of sporting codes at Country Week in Perth.
If you’d like to learn more about the learning program and sporting opportunities at EACS, download our prospectus.