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As we ponder the future of the Safe Routes to School program’s federal funding, an important point that is often lost when considering the benefits of these kinds of programs is that there is a strong scientific link between kids’ activity levels and their academic performance.

Policymakers might want to take into account findings from a University of Illinois study suggesting the academic benefits of physical exercise. The research, led by a professor of kinesiology and community health and the director of the Neurocognitive Kinesiology Laboratory at Illinois, suggests that physical activity may increase students’ cognitive control – or ability to pay attention – and also result in better performance on academic achievement tests.

The study’s goal was to test if moderate exercise — walking — was beneficial for cognitive function in a period of time after the walk. For each of three testing criteria — reading, spelling, and math — researchers noted a positive outcome linking physical activity, attention and academic achievement. Kids scores improved in all three categories, although the greatest effect was seen in the reading comprehension category. The researchers said that the increase in post-walk reading comprehension equated approximately to a full grade level!

Time Magazine also recently covered this issue, and highlighted recent research from the Netherlands which reviewed 14 studies on this topic. The overwhelming conclusion was that the more physical activity a child has, the better he or she will do, in terms of both standardized tests and grade point average. The higher scores were particularly reflected in math, English, and reading. The study review hypothesized that physical activity may increase blood flow to the brain, providing more oxygen to cells involved in learning and attention.

Walking and bicycling are such great ways for kids to be active. Exploring a Safe Routes to School program for your school is easy — all you have to do is contact the Greater Mercer TMA! And you can do it while sitting. Not that you should be, if you want to be smart.

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