Active Body, Active Mind: Why Kids Need Recess

Active Body, Active Mind: Why Kids Need RecessAdults are told all the time to exercise more. But do your kids move enough? Physical education and recess times are constantly getting shortened or cut from the school day, despite the growing body of evidence showing that physical activity is important for cognitive function in children. The reasons why kids need recess are widespread; exercise benefits children both physically and mentally.[1] The more your child moves, the better they will learn.

Importance of exercise for children

Exercise in children improves physical fitness, bone mass, insulin functioning, and markers of inflammation. It also helps overall well-being, improving things like physical self-perceptions and self-esteem.[1] What might be most important, however, is that exercise can improve cognitive function in children. Exercise may be able to enhance intelligence, academic achievement, brain development, processing speed, and more.[1,2,3] 

Physical activity can boost academic achievement

Research shows that physical activity and academic achievement are closely associated. A study in Sweden found that children who had two extra sessions of physical activity during the school week were significantly more likely to meet the academic achievement standards that those who did not have the extra activity time.[1]

In another study, students who participated in an afterschool program called FITKids, during which they spent 70 minutes per day being physically active, had better executive control than those who did not participate. Executive control measures things like ability to resist distractions, maintain focus, manipulate information, and multitask, all which are related to the ability to learn and perform in school.[4]

Higher attendance to the FITKids program led to larger changes in attention, processing speed, and performance during the executive control tasks, suggesting that the more regularly kids get to move during the day, the better they will be able to perform in school.[4] More aerobically fit children generally perform better on standardized tests and receive higher grades, as well.[5]

Researchers know that exercise can affect cognitive function through a variety of mechanisms. Physical activity increases circulation of certain neurotransmitters, increases blood flow to the brain, and more.[3]

Benefits of exercise for children with ADHD

Being physically active is especially important for children with ADHD. Researchers believe that “physical activity may offer benefits over and above psychostimulate use.”[2] Children with ADHD generally do better after short bouts of exercise, and long-term interventions of moderate-vigorous exercise decrease ADHD-related behaviors and improve neuropsychological functioning.[2]

Children with ADHD show different brain activity compared to kids without the condition, suggesting that there are some cognitive deficits related to the ADHD. Researchers examined brain activity in children with ADHD who exercised and those who did not. Brain scans in the exercise group showed patterns similar to children without ADHD, suggesting that exercise can ameliorate some of the cognitive deficiencies related to ADHD.[3] For other natural strategies for treating ADHD, read more here.

Exercise is just one of the many ways to boost your child’s health naturally. Try out these healthy lunch ideas, or read more tips for keeping your kid healthy during school here.

Do you think that your kid sits too much at school? What ideas do you have for getting your kid to move throughout the day? Share your thoughts on why kids need recess in the comments section below.


[1] J Sch Health. 2014 Aug;84(8):473-80.

[2] Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2014 Oct;23(4):899-936.

[3] J Atten Disord. 2014 Oct 30.

[4] Pediatrics. 2014 Oct;134(4):e1063-71.

[5] Brain Cogn. 2014 Jun;87:140-52.

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UHN Staff

University Health News is produced by the award-winning editors and authors of Belvoir Media Group’s Health & Wellness Division. Headquartered in Norwalk, Conn., with editorial offices in Florida, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, … Read More

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