The recipe for improving academic performance in childhood

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A study carried out in Australia concluded that light activity takes time away from others that favor school performance.

Finding the best daily balance of sleep, activity and relaxation for a child and adolescent can be a challenge -especially in the context of the pandemic-, but if what is sought is to help improve the academic performance of children and adolescents, new international research offers some clues.

By exploring the associations between 24-hour daily activities (sleep, sedentary time, mild physical activity, and moderate to vigorous physical activity) and academic performance, the first global study found that the less time children spent doing light activities (chores domestic, sitting at the computer, for example), the better their academic performance.

Dr Dorothea Dumuid, from the University of South Australia (UniSA), noted that the findings show how lighter activities can take time away from others, to the detriment of academic performance.

“When we talk about what constitutes the best day for a child’s academic achievement, we have to consider all the different elements of that day: sleep, exercise, activity, rest and play,” says Dumuid.

“If a child spends more time in light physical activity, then they have less time to sleep, study and engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity, all of which are good for academic performance.”

“In some ways it is like Newton’s law – for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction – however, in this case, each increase in a behavior has a corresponding and equal decrease in one or more of the remaining behaviors,” the researcher graphed. And he added: “So, you could say: it’s not just what it does, but what it doesn’t do which contributes to academic success. “

The study evaluated 528 children aged 9-11 years from the multinational cross-sectional ISCOLE study, and 1874 children aged 11-12 years from the phase CheckPoint of the study Growing Up in Australia. For the work, the researchers analyzed movement behaviors collected through 7-day accelerometry and assessed academic performance in literacy and numeracy skills as determined by NAPLAN (an annual assessment conducted in Australia at 3, 5, 7 and 9 years).

Light physical activity incorporated tasks such as doing housework, sitting in front of the computer, playing video games, preparing or eating food, among other things.

The results were consistent in Australian samples, different age groups, different academic standards and achieved with different accelerometers, indicating the robustness of the study, according to the authors of the work.

Co-investigator Professor Tim Olds says lower academic performance is unlikely to be related to light physical activity per se, but what displace the remaining behaviors.

“Every day has a fixed 24-hour budget, so it’s not so much about kids getting light physical activity as doing it, reducing the amount of time they could spend on other activities,” says Olds .

“Our results are consistent with the 24-hour movement guidelines of about an hour of moderate to vigorous exercise per day, less than two hours of recreational screen time and between 9-11 hours of sleep per night.

“If parents can hope for their children to get enough sleep, exercise enough, and study enough, their children may not even have enough time for light physical activity – problem solved!” The researchers concluded.

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