Most scientific research on the topic of physical inactivity has focused on the consequences of physical inactivity for physical health, with significant attention to obesity and medical conditions such as diabetes. A new article provides compelling new data on the consequences of physical inactivity for neural function, cognitive task performance, and academic achievement.
The majority of students do not engage in any form of planned physical activity during the school week.
Yet physically active children tend to outperform their inactive peers in the classroom and on tests of achievement. The research presented in the monograph helps to make clear why. When compared to their less fit peers, those who engage in more physical activity have larger brain volumes in the basal ganglia and hippocampus, areas associated with cognitive control and memory. Cognitive control refers to the control of thought, action, behavior, and decision-making.
Physically active children also have increased concentration and enhanced attention spans when compared to their less active peers. The authors find that fitness is related to the ability to inhibit attention to competing stimuli during a task, an ability that can help children stay focused and persevere to complete an assignment. The findings on attention encompass children with special needs as well as typically developing children. The authors also report on physical activity as a non-pharmaceutical intervention for children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and children with autism spectrum disorders, with positive results.