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Motor skills, movement and mathematical performance are closely related

Source: Math lessons / Shutterstock

Learning math while engaging the whole body through physical movement can improve math performance for first-graders, according to a new Danish study. The February 2017 study, “Motor-Enriched Learning Activities Can Improve Mathematical Performance in Preadolescent Children”, was published in the journal Borders in Human neuroscience.

New findings from the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports at the University of Copenhagen add new insights to a growing body of research on the correlation between motor skills, moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and school performance. Danish researchers also found that students reap the most benefits when learning math and various types of movements are individualized.

In 2013, a Finnish study reported that children with poor motor skills also have poorer reading and numeracy skills. The Finnish study found that children who performed poorly on agility, speed and manual dexterity tests also scored lower on reading and arithmetic tests in Grades 1 through 3. Conversely, children who performed better on motor skills tests scored higher on reading and arithmetic tests.

In a 2016 follow-up study, Finnish researchers found that the combination of high levels of sedentary time (TS) and low levels of MVPA correlated with an increased risk that boys aged 6 to 8 had poor outcomes. read. and arithmetic for grades 1 to 3 of elementary school.

These findings reinforce findings from other ADHD research that has found that making physical activity a part of the daily life of young boys is especially important to help them stay focused in school. Physical activity helps children with ADHD think better and do better on tests. (For more on this, check out my Psychology today blog post, “Increasing Physical Movement Reduces ADHD Symptoms.”)

The new study from Denmark dovetails with the aforementioned research from Finland and is groundbreaking as it delves into the details of the connection between movement and cognition. Danish researchers were curious to find out what types of physical activity work best for improving academic performance. They also studied what levels of aerobic intensity and physical exertion optimize learning. In a statement, chief researcher and associate professor of integrated physiology Jacob Wienecke said:

“Children learn more if they move around and use their whole body to learn. Compared to previous studies that have shown that intense physical activity can improve learning outcomes, we have been able to show that low-intensity activities are just as effective, if not more effective. , as long as the movement is integrated into the subject being treated.

We must keep this in mind when we develop new forms of teaching. The new school reform emphasizes, among other things, the integration of physical activity during the school day, with the aim of improving the motivation, well-being and learning of ALL children.

However, individual understanding must be taken into account. Otherwise, we risk an unfortunate combined result in which those who are already proficient advance and those who have not yet mastered the concepts cannot follow. “

Researchers are currently studying the specific brain areas and motor systems involved in these various learning strategies. They will also test how physical activity and enriched motor learning have positive effects on other academic skills, such as reading.

“I thought about it while riding a bike.” —Albert Einstein on E = mc²

Albert Einstein said of E = mc², “I thought about it while riding a bike.”

Source: Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

Albert Einstein intuitively understood the link between physical movement and mathematics. When asked how he came up with his theory of general relativity, E = mc² (which is arguably the most famous mathematical equation of all time), Einstein joked: “I thought about it while doing biking.”

Einstein was known for his long walks around Princeton, where he lived and worked for much of his career. He also used his bike for commuting and for recreation, most likely ruminating on mathematical equations and how to solve complex quantum physics puzzles while pedaling. In recent years, this type of anecdotal evidence that links intellectual performance, Eureka! and physical activity has been corroborated by a wide variety of empirical research.

From a neuroscientific point of view, numerous studies (in people of all ages) have concluded that moderate to vigorous physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness are associated with improvement. white matter integrity, which optimizes functional connectivity and communication between regions of the brain. (I wrote dozens of Psychology today blog articles on this topic. Click this link to find out more.)

Throughout human life, daily aerobic activity also influences the volume of grey matter in specific regions of the brain and is associated with improved cognitive functioning and creative production.

(By the way: I have a hypothesis that many brain benefits of physical activity could come from increased interconnectivity between the two hemispheres of the brain (Latin for “brain”) and the two hemispheres of the cerebellum (Latin for “little brain”). My speculation is that optimizing the structure and functional connectivity between all four the cerebral hemispheres through physical activity can help improve fine motor skills while simultaneously refining someone’s thinking processes. This is just an educated guess on my part. That being said, my belief system draws on Jeremy Schmahmann’s extensive research at Harvard Medical School on ataxia and his “thought dysmetry” hypothesis.)

More research is needed on the link between physical activity and school performance

Neuroscientists are quickly examining specific neural circuits and brain mechanics that are stimulated by various types of physical activity. But, much more empirical research is needed. Hopefully future studies will lead to better methods of diagnosing and prescribing enriched and specialized types of motor learning that are best suited for each child (and adult) based on their individual needs.

In the meantime, the growing body of research presented here underscores the importance of incorporating individualized, motor-enriched learning activities into elementary schools. This type of movement-based learning strategies should be a top priority for policy makers and educators; especially in a digital age that is plagued by excessive screen time and sedentary lifestyle (too much seated).

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