As someone who was a student well into my thirties, I wish I knew then what I know now about how to excel in school. But any student, whether at the college level or just getting started in kindergarten, can benefit from the exciting research results showing six simple, natural steps you can take to improve learning and boost academic achievement.
Take a Multivitamin
Taking a daily multivitamin can significantly improve children’s academic performance, studies show, even in already well-nourished children.1-4 One study found that one year of supplementation significantly improved verbal learning and memory.2 Just three months of vitamins markedly improved nonverbal intelligence, attention, and reaction times in schoolchildren in other studies.3,4
Another important nutrient for brain function and school performance is the omega-3 essential fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). The brain’s frontal lobes, which are responsible for planning, problem solving, and focused attention, are rich in DHA.5 Learning is impaired when brain levels of DHA are low.5
DHA supplementation improves various aspects of cognitive function and school performance in healthy children and young adults, as well as in children with learning disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).5-9
A daily dose of 600 mg significantly improved scores on standardized tests of reading ability in 7 to 9 year olds who were underperforming in reading.6 In other studies, DHA supplements improved reading, spelling, attention, and behavior in children with learning disorders and ADHD.7,8 In healthy young adults, a daily dose of 1.16 grams significantly improved memory.9
DHA is available in all sorts of flavored liquid and chewable formats, including gummies, for picky eaters. DHA Junior, a strawberry-flavored liquid from Nordic Naturals, contains 255 mg per one-half teaspoon. Children should aim for a daily dose of at least 600 mg DHA per day, while adults should aim for at least 1,160 mg DHA per day.
Have a consistent bedtime
Consistent sleep schedules and adequate amounts of non-disrupted sleep are required for optimal learning. An inconsistent bedtime or going to bed after 9:00 p.m. resulted in lower cognitive test scores for reading, math, and spatial abilities in one recent study in 7 year olds, especially for girls.11
Seven year olds need 10 to 11 hours of sleep per night. The same study also found that an irregular bedtime at age 3 is associated with lower cognitive performance at age 7 for girls and boys.11
Teenagers suffer from short and disrupted sleep patterns related to behaviors such as going to bed too late and consuming too much caffeine (often in the form of energy drinks).12 One recent study found that teens who spend less than eight hours in bed at night had a 62% increased risk of poor academic achievement.13 Another study showed that teens who consumed on average at least one energy drink a day had more sleep disruption and increased problems with planning, organizing, initiating, and holding information for problem solving.14
Eat a low-glycemic-load breakfast
Children and teens who eat breakfast on a consistent basis tend to have improved memory, test grades, and school attendance.15 Not only that, but the latest research shows that the specific characteristics of the breakfast matter. Eating a breakfast that includes carbohydrates with a low glycemic index rather than a high glycemic index improves cognitive and academic performance.16-18
This means choosing whole grains with little added sugar and including some protein and fat with breakfast—while staying away from rice- and corn-based cereals, white potatoes, and anything made with white flour.
Get aerobic exercise
Aerobically fit children are better thinkers and learners. They do better in math and language and have higher grade point averages.19 One recent study demonstrated that children with greater aerobic fitness have better language processing—a richer network of words and their meanings, and a greater ability to detect and/or repair language-based errors—skills that are associated with academic achievement.20 Aerobic exercise activity is related to academic performance in college students, too.21 Strength doesn’t appear to matter nearly as much for academic achievement as aerobic capacity.19,21 Participating in sports, playing tag, jumping rope, skipping, dancing, riding a bike, and swimming are all fun ways to get aerobic exercise. Even a brief, 12-minute bout of exercise is enough to improve reading comprehension and the ability to remain visually focused on something despite distractions.22
Treat allergy or digestive symptoms
Poor school performance related to nasal allergy symptoms is not uncommon.23 Nasal allergy symptoms are also related to poor sleep and hyperactivity.23 Similarly, students with chronic food-induced digestive symptoms, like abdominal pain, report poorer school performance.24
If your child suffers from these conditions, his academic performance is likely being affected. Work closely with a healthcare provider to fully address these symptoms. You can find more information on allergies here and digestive issues here.
1. 6 Easy Ways to Improve Academic Performance
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