As kids get ready to head back to school, long days spent outdoors playing at the park or pool are suddenly replaced by hours stuck behind a desk. And things might not get much better once your child is back home, since they’ll probably want to curl up on the couch with a snack and veg in front of the TV. But when kids remain active during the school year, they’ll set themselves up for academic success. Dr. Molly O’Shea, M.D., a pediatrician at Birmingham Pediatrics Wellness Center, an American Academy of Pediatrics journal editor and an official pediatrician of Goldfish Swim School explains why exercise is so important for your child to get to the head of the class.
“Consistent physical activity all year long is important for overall health and for kids of all ages,” Dr. O’Shea explains. “It helps them settle their bodies and minds to learn. Plus, kids who are physically active consistently learn better, perform better in school, and have better relationships with peers.”
How can exercise impact learning?
Physical activity in and out of school has been shown in many research studies to improve learning. By improving neurologic readiness, exercise improves attention, executive function, and retention of information. Long term, sustained exercise shows consistent value.
Why do you think there’s a direct correlation between physical activity and academic success?
By keeping the body active, the brain is alert and ready to receive information. If you think about it, in primitive times, our predecessors would have been running and looking for prey or looking to stay alive. Through exercise, our brains could quiet down, pay attention to the cues and learn what is safe and what we need to do to survive. Regular movement and exercise help our brains get ready to learn.
Is there a best time of day for kids to get physical activity outside of gym class?
Any time is a good time to be active! But if learning is your goal, exercising before you plan to learn is ideal.
Do you have any tips for how kids (and parents) can balance before and after-school activities with schoolwork?
Every family and child are different. Some kids thrive on activity while others need more downtime. Some kids need more support to get their schoolwork done while others fly through it. Finding the right balance of structured activities, unstructured time, and homework can be tricky. What is known is that all kids benefit from all three things: physical activity, unstructured time, and homework time every day.
What are the physical benefits of swimming specifically?
Swimming is a particularly good physical activity because it is a whole-body activity. Overuse injuries are uncommon, and kids can swim all year long. Swimming, unlike most other sports, uses all parts of the body equally and since the exercise happens in the water, it’s much less stressful on the body.
What about the mental benefits?
Swimming has big benefits for mental health. With the breathing regulation, repetitive (almost meditative) nature of lap swimming, and the quiet of the pool or lake, swimming provides huge mental health benefits beyond just the usual exercise benefits of endorphin release and calm.
Can it impact their motivation in school?
Swimmers are long known to be high academic achievers. The confidence that swimming creates is translated into taking charge in school as well. Swimming also is a highly repetitive activity. This aerobic, repetitive activity seems to create the optimal cognitive environment for learning. It reinforces other learning pathways and opens up new ones.