TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A pair of recent studies could change the stereotype of the "dumb jock."
Both found evidence that having young people move their bodies could be the best medicine to boost their brains.
"What's good for the heart is also good for the brain," Stormont-Vail physical therapist Michael Bagwell said.
Bagwell says the findings of the studies make sense when one considers the physiological impact of exercise. He says exercise increases blood flow to the brain. When the brain gets more blood flow, he says, it's able to extract more oxygen, which allows it to operate more efficiently.
Though it may not be a direct correlation, in the classroom setting, he says it could set the stage to improve the ability to concentrate, focus and retrieve information.
The Kansas Departments of Education and Health and Environment launched the K-FIT initiative to track fitness levels and academic performance of fourth thru ninth graders. In findings released in late January, the agencies found students who scored in a healthy fitness zone also scored above standard on state reading and math assessments. In addition, those students missed fewer days of school. Bagwell says that may be because exercise helps to build the immune system so a person is better able to fight off potential illnesses.
The correlation doesn't end with middle school. A separate University of Kansas study found high school students who participated in athletics had better attendance and graduation rates, higher assessment scores, and were less likely to drop out compared to non-athletes.
Bagwell says participation in organized extracurricular activities help students learn time management skills. They also must learn to set priorities and goals.
The KU researchers note policies of maintaining minimum academic performance in order to participate also may play a role in the student-athletes higher scores. Along with that, Bagwell notes student athletes are banking what he calls "social capital," which can be an intangible part of their learning environment. He says, in smaller schools especially, the coaches also are among the students' teachers. Students who participate in athletic activities get to know their educator-coach on a more personal basis, which develops a sense of trust and improved communications that may translate to more effective learning from that educator.
Bagwell says he agrees with other education and health officials who say the studies support the importance of keeping physical education and athletics programs as part of a complete educational program.
Researchers are applying these same theories in studying whether physical activity can improve brain function in people with conditions such as dementia or Alzheimers disease.