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Linking physical activity to improved academic performance

A growing body of evidence-based research suggests that regular exercise and physical activity significantly improves children and young people’s cognitive abilities and academic performance, in addition to the immediate and long-term health and wellbeing benefits they experience.

Research suggests children and young people who are more physically active are better able to focus their attention on tasks, have improved working memory, are quicker to perform simple tasks, and have better problem solving skills than those who are less active.

Schools play an important role in developing the knowledge, skills and attitudes young people need to adopt an active lifestyle, where physical activity is a regular and valued part of their daily lives. The mandatory PDHPE K–10 syllabus acknowledges the link between the cognitive and physical components of health.

In PDHPE K-6, students explore:

  • Balancing lifestyle components for optimal health
  • The effects of physical activity on the body
  • Regular participation in daily activity
  • How positive health choices promote wellbeing.

In PDHPE Years 7-10, students explore:

  • The interaction of cognitive, physical, social, emotional and spiritual components of health
  • Physical activity levels for health and fitness
  • Participation in lifelong physical activities and the potential benefits
  • The benefits of a balanced lifestyle that includes rest, sleep and physical activity
  • A range of positive management strategies to support good health eg yoga, relaxation, physical activity and listening to music.

For more information relating to the role physical activity plays in improving academic performance, and ways to increase levels of physical activity in children and young people, visit the following websites:

  • American College of Sports Medicine – The Association Between Study Time, Grade Point Average And Physical Activity Participation In College Students
  • Australian National University – Schools With Fitter Children Achieve Better Literacy and Numeracy Results: Evidence of a School Cultural Effect
  • Healthy Kids NSW
  • Institute of Medicine of the National Academies
  • NSW Premier’s Sporting Challenge
  • New York Times – How exercise can boost young brains
  • NSW Kids and Families
  • University of Georgia – Exercise and Children’s Intelligence, Cognition, and Academic Achievement
    World Health Organisation

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