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Sep 06, 2014



Although this year, back to school is getting delayed, it’s still a great time to look at science that encourages teachers to press pause during math or English so students can get physical - to boost grades!  It is well understood that exercise promotes overall health.  But in the past few years, neuroscientists have made significant strides in quantifying its brain-boosting powers at all stages of life.


Canada’s students now spend more time sitting at a desk than those in many other industrialized countries.  One example is Finland, which consistently performs among the top countries in international student assessments.  A typical Finnish student, by the time they reach the age of 14, will have spent 5500 hours in the classroom.  A Canadian student of the same age has spent 7500.  As we increase class time, we are also often reducing access to physical education (fewer PE teachers, less extra-curricular support).


  • Not only do kids with higher levels of fitness have a more developed brain structure and perform better on cognitive tests, embedding exercise (even short spells of moderate activity) into classroom time improves focus, retention and test scores
  • Children who are more fit have better white matter tracts (which affect learning) in their brains, as well as higher levels of development in areas of the brain that support critical thinking and memory
  • Even in the short term, exercise can support learning -research showed that 20 minutes of easy walking boosts performance in areas of the brain that support math and reading achievement for up to an hour
  • Greater gains from exercise are often found among children who have attention-deficit disorders, or whose families are less financially able to provide fewer extracurricular activities
  • Results can be so dramatic for low-income students that it essentially eliminates pre-test performance gap with higher-income peers
  • An easy way to increase physical activity is to have multiple sessions (fitness breaks) interspersed with class time
  • There is no evidence that supports concerns about classes having difficulty settling down after bursts of activity
  • Not only are there immediate benefits to short bursts in the school day, the 10 mins per hour or so of class time add up to a sizable chunk of the daily recommended total for exercise, which has been shown to produce long-term brain improvement




Anderssen, Eric (2014, August 30) “Building a Better Brain” The Globe and Mail, p F5

Verma, Sonia (2014, August 30) “The Finnish Miracle” The Globe and Mail, p


Dr. Clare Craig, ND, CD(DONA)
Naturopathic Doctor, Doula
Island Optimal Health & Performance

Island Optimal Health & Performance
#103-1808 Bowen Road
Nanaimo, BC   V9S 5W4


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