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Self-directed exercise 'can aid children's capacity to learn'

02/01/2018 Kelly

Giving schoolchildren the opportunity to get physically active during the school day could have a positive impact on their educational attainment.

This is according to a new study from the Universities of Stirling and Edinburgh, which enrolled more than 11,000 school pupils across the UK in an experiment investigating the impact of taking a short exercise break on their mood and cognitive abilities.

Three different forms of exercise were tested, with the first task being an intense session that brought children close to the point of exhaustion, while the second allowed children to run or walk at a speed of their own choice for 15 minutes. A control group, meanwhile, were let outside and left to their own devices for 15 minutes, in order to establish whether physical activity had any greater impact than simply going outside.

Compared to the control group, children who took part in exercise reported feeling more awake after taking their break, with those who were allowed to regulate the pace of their own exercise seeing the greatest benefits.

Children responded quicker to a task evaluating their attention span after completing the self-directed exercise task, and were better at controlling their responses and at remembering words on command than those who took part in the other two outdoor activities.

Dr Josie Booth, of the University of Edinburgh's Moray House School of Education, said: "This suggests that children should be encouraged to exercise at their own pace during short breaks from class. This may help children be more ready to learn when they return to the classroom."

She added: "Importantly, this exercise should be in addition to normal physical education and also at a time when the class teacher thinks the class would benefit the most from a break."

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