Exercise is key to getting smarter, creative
Since ancient times, there has been a strong belief that vigorous exercise and physical activity are essential for the development of intellectual vigour and abilities. To quote Thomas Jefferson: “A strong body makes the mind strong. If the body be feeble, the mind will not be strong. The sovereign invigorator of the body is exercise.”
Indeed, most schools and some universities have emphasised physical education. Though the physical requirement has waxed and waned over the years, there are some interesting carry-overs — one of which is the swimming test as a requirement for graduation at a few elite American schools such as Columbia University.
In the last few decades, there has been a marked decline in physical activity, which has led to a notable increase in obesity in children. Among United States high school students in 2010, only 10 per cent met guidelines for physical activity. Thirteen per cent were obese and almost half did not attend physical education classes.
Almost a third were watching television or playing with computers for more than three hours a day. In Singapore, the percentage of obese children is also about 12 per cent.
The consequences of being obese are well known. They include emotional and social adversity. Obesity in childhood leads to obese adults; what’s more, it is associated with heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Reducing obesity, which is reaching epidemic proportions, has become a high priority in most Western countries.
FITTER BODIES, BETTER LEARNERS
What is less well known is that lower physical activity is not good for school performance. Numerous studies have shown poor physical function is linked to poor school performance, while physically fit children perform various tasks more rapidly and efficiently than do the less fit.