Exercise + Classwork May = Better Math Scores
Dutch study also found bringing exercise to the classroom boosted spelling grades
By Amy Norton
WEDNESDAY, Feb. 24, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Schoolchildren may have an easier time learning if exercise is part of their math and spelling lessons, a new study suggests.
Dutch researchers found that second- and third-graders given "physically active" lessons did better on math and spelling tests, compared with their peers who learned the old-fashioned way.
Experts not involved with the study called the findings "encouraging." But they also said it's too soon to push for physically active classrooms everywhere.
Weaving exercise into traditional lessons could offer the "amazing possibility" of helping kids learn, while also helping them stay healthy, said Sara Benjamin Neelon, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in Baltimore.
"The take-home message is that physically active lessons may be a novel way to increase physical activity and improve academic performance at the same time," said Benjamin Neelon, who cowrote an editorial published with the study.
But, she added, there are still big unknowns: For one, the study was done in the Netherlands, and it's not clear that the results would extend to the diverse school systems in the United States.
And even if they do, Benjamin Neelon said, there are real-world practical barriers to bringing exercise into classrooms -- including training teachers, winning parents over and simply finding the space and time.
For the study, researchers recruited 24 classes at 12 elementary schools in the northern Netherlands. Teachers in half of the classes stuck with traditional lessons, while the rest started incorporating exercise into some math, spelling and reading lessons.
For instance, instead of just saying "2 times 4 equals 8," kids would jump in place eight times. Or they would hop for each letter of a word they spelled, explained lead researcher Marijke Mullender-Wijnsma, of the University Medical Center Groningen, in the Netherlands.
Overall, the children had 20 to 30 minutes of physically active learning three times a week. And that seemed to make a difference, the study found.
After two years, kids in active classrooms scored higher on standard math and spelling tests -- the equivalent of about four months of extra learning, Mullender-Wijnsma said.