Much has been written about America’s education system and how children rank compared to their counterparts around the world. But while we are so busy focusing on learning outcomes, nobody is talking about potential effects brought about by the elimination of physical education programs in response to shrinking budgets. Even recess breaks have been cut in most places so that kids can spend more time ‘learning’. No doubt the authorities mean well but from a preventative health point of view, it is short-sighted.
A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that just a few minutes of exercise can help children with ADHD perform better academically. The study, led by Michigan State University’s Matthew Pontifex, involved 40 children aged 8 to 10, half of whom had ADHD. It was a pretty simple study; all the kids were asked to spend 20 minutes either walking briskly on a treadmill or reading while seated. The children then took a brief reading comprehension and math exam similar to longer standardized tests. They also played a simple computer game in which they had to ignore visual stimuli to quickly determine which direction a cartoon fish was swimming. Guess what? The results showed all of the children performed better on both tests after exercising.
ADHD is a complex disorder caused by an interaction of genetic, biological and environmental factors. Nobody is suggesting that lack of exercise causes ADHD but the findings of this study were so significant that the author suggested that increasing children’s physical activity be considered a “first course of action” when treating children with ADHD, before medication. Easy to say, but not so easy to do. School officials say they are under pressure to improve test scores and argue that there is not enough time for P.E. classes. But in the words of one Yale Researcher, Dr. David Katz, who is on a mission to reverse trends in obesity and chronic disease, “rambunctiousness in children should be treated with something more like recess, and less like Ritalin.” It may be controversial but there are so many benefits to exercise, why not at least give it a try?