Don’t sideline sport if you want your child to succeed - exercise can help improve academic results
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hen we consider the benefits of being active, we usually think in terms of physical wellbeing - cardiovascular fitness, avoiding obesity, improving our flexibility, and so on.
But numerous studies show that the benefits of being active go way beyond just the physical; there are extensive psychological advantages too.
This is especially true for our children, with a range of research showing clearly how exercise can positively affect a child’s mental wellbeing, even helping them to achieve more at school.
The World Health Organisation advises that exercise helps young people deal with anxiety and depression, helps their social development and builds self-confidence. But despite the research, many parents do not prioritise physical education, instead focusing aspirations solely on academic achievement. Ironically, this could actually be holding back a child’s learning.
According to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): “Participating in physical activity is positively related to academic achievement… concentration, memory, selfesteem, and verbal skills.
It continues: “Schools should increase opportunity for physical activity. There is evidence that physical activity may help improve academic performance, including grades and test scores.”
Kings’ School Al Barsha in Dubai is one school that is embracing this ethos and aiming to prove the worth of physical education for all children.
The school is experimenting with the Spark Project, an educational programme born in the United States that seeks to promote the wide-reaching benefits of physical activity for students.
“The Spark project that we have running here is using physical activity to engage the brain,” explains Colin Morris, Director of Sport at Kings’ School Al Barsha.
“The idea of Spark is that a student raises their heart rate to about 70 per cent of their maximum and holds it there for 15 minutes. The research says that their brains will be more active for 90 minutes after that exercise.
“We have a group of children in year 5. Three times a week they will be running before school and then we will be tracking how well they do in English and Maths to prove how this activity increases their brain function.
“If the results are positive, which we hope they are, we will be rolling that out across the school and we hope to see it impact positively on exam results.”
“The Spark programme is really exciting,” agrees Alan Williamson, Principal at the school. “Students are coming in early and doing physical activity and it’s non-competitive. They compete only against themselves, raising their own fitness levels and we are finding that this has real benefits for their academic achievement.”
So healthier, happier and more successful students - all from an early-morning run? It really does seem like an educational ‘no-brainer’.
It is, says Adam Griffin, Senior Occupational Therapist at Camali Clinic in Dubai.
“In addition to the clear physical benefits, children who get the chance to run, jump, spin, tumble, splash and dance experience major improvements across multiple areas including attention, learning and overall behaviour.
“In addition, children and teens who are more physically active are more academically motivated, have stronger social supports and better self-esteem than less active peers.”
“The Spark initiative is our chance to really push the boundaries,” Colin from Kings’ explains. “It’s an incredibly exciting opportunity to show the power of physical activity and how it can provide support in all areas of school life. “It’s a really significant development for how we approach the overall wellbeing of all children.”