Exercise: Good for the Brain as Well as the Heart

March 21, 2007

by Jean Saunders, HSC School Wellness Director

When I put down Mary Carmichael’s Newsweek article, “Exercise and the Brain,” I stopped what I was doing (the dishes!) and insisted my family join me for an after-dinner walk. The article captured my undivided attention with its sub-heading: “Exercise does more than build muscles and help prevent heart disease. New science shows that it also boosts brainpower — and may offer hope in the battle against Alzheimer’s.”

Carmichael reports on a soon-to-be-published study by University of Illinois researcher Charles Hillman. Hillman evaluated students’ physical abilities by measuring how many sit-ups and push-ups they could do in given period of time and how fast they could run a measured distance. He then compared these results with their math and reading scores on Illinois standardized tests. Hillman found that the fittest kids in his study were the ones with the “fittest” brains, even when other factors, like socio-economic status, were taken into consideration.

This study contributes to a growing body of evidence that shows that regular physical activity is critical to not only students’ health but also their ability to do well at school.

The Healthy States Initiative, a partnership of The Council of State Governments, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators and the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators, recently published a report (PDF) that summarizes the role of physical activity and physical education in schools.

The report states: “Research has shown that taking time out of the school day for physical activity or physical education does not harm test scores, but helps them.”

Read the report to learn about how a growing number of states are adopting legislation to promote increased access to physical education in schools. Our hope is that in the very near future, students in all 50 states will have daily PE as part of their school experience.