Effects of physical activity on children’s math achievement and cognition


Many of us are aware of the fact that physical activity makes us feel better. Nevertheless, in today’s technology-driven world, it is easy to forget that we are born movers given that to a great extent, we have engineered movement out of our lives. The sedentary character of modern life in Western societies affects the brain in the same way as it affects the body, increasing with activity and declining with inactivity. (Ratey 2009)

Various studies have sought to provide updated knowledge on the relationship between children’s physical activity and cognitive abilities by studying the influence of physical activity on the subsequent cognitive learning (Andersen & Froberg 2006; Ericsson 2003; Hillman CH et al. 2009; Moser 2007;, Sibley & Etnier 2003, Tomporowski et al. 2003, 2008; Trudeau & Shephard 2008). These studies have showed unequivocal results with respectively enhanced, impaired and no effect on cognitive abilities.

Never the less, the most recent results indicate a significant and positive effect of physical activity on children's cognition. (Best 2010, Chaddock L, 2010, Davis CL, et al. 2011, Kamijo K, et al. 2011). These studies have investigated the relationship between physical activity and cognition by looking at the implementation of an increased number of physical education lessons in the educational institution. This fact may among other things, be due to the predominantly philosophical dualistic tradition where knowledge is regarded as a separate phenomenon independent of bodily movement.

Contrary to this dualistic approach there has been a growing interest and research integrating the body in the study of cognition (E.g. Aziz-Zadeh & Damasio 2008; Aziz-Zadeh et al. 2006; Binkofski et al. 2004; Buccino et al. 2006; Gibbs 2007; Glenberg et al. 2008; Lutz & Thompson 2003; Pfeifer & Bongard 2007; Rizzolatti & Craighero 2004; Tettamanti et al. 2005). This has opened new opportunities to increase knowledge about the body as a potential learning resource. However these studies are of isolated laboratory experimental nature and therefore they lack connection to the learning processes present in an educational setting.
Consequently there is a great need for research in classroom-based physical activity characterized by a meaningful connection between the movement and learning objectives. Thereby an abstract phenomenon will be connected with a concrete bodily experience which could optimize the comprehension and memory. Thus an interesting and promising challenge for future research is to investigate the effect of integrating the physical activity in classroom-teaching connecting mind and body as a synergetic catalyst for learning. Results from this kind of research could have a great impact on the way we think of and organize our educational system.

Contact: Mona Have Sørensen

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