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Physical activity is good for brains…

We all recommend physical activity (PA) to school-age children because it’s good for their physical health, but could it also benefit their academic performance? Yes, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis (Alvarez-Bueno C et al. Pediatrics 2017. doi: 10.1542/peds. 2017–1498). The Spanish authors came up with a surprisingly high tally of 26 studies, involving over 10 200 healthy children aged 4 to 13 years, from 11 different countries. Studies varied in what interventions they used, but all involved some sort of structured, supervised exercise within school. Only eight were considered to be ‘quasi-experimental’ although 18 were reported as randomised controlled trials. Outcome measures were mostly test performances in various school subjects. Most of the studies showed some improvement associated with PA. In the meta-analysis, they showed a surprising divergence in the degree of benefit depending on what subject was being assessed: mathematical skills seemed to be the most enhanced (effect size 0.21; 95% CI 0.09 to 0.33; P=0.002), with lesser effects for language and reading skills (ES 0.13; 95% CI 0.02 to 0.24). Some studies also demonstrated a significant improvement in classroom behaviour.

The authors conclude that this evidence should influence school timetables: ‘… contrary to what is …

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