Parents and teachers have been saying it for years — kids need more physical activity throughout the day. Yet there is hardly a school district in the nation that hasn't cut back on recess and other breaks in the school day in order to squeeze more "academics" into kids' brains. But a new study might just make school administrators think twice about taking away P.E. and recess in favor of more desk time.

As if childhood obesity weren't enough of a reason for schools to consider upping physical activity time fore kids, a new study has found that being active can seriously improve a student's schoolwork.

For the study, which was published in the most recent issue of Pediatrics, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign examined the effects of a nine month after-school program, called Fitness Improves Thinking in Kids (FITKids) at the University of Illinois. For the program, kids aged 7 to 9 years old met after school for a quick snack and about 70 minutes of active exercise. No competition. No parents yelling from the sidelines. Just 70 minutes of tag, soccer, jump rope and other games where kids play like kids. One hundred nine kids participated in the FITKids program. These kids were then compared with other kids in their grades who had not participated in FITKids.

Outside of the exercise time, researchers showed the children a character on the screen and asked them to click a button to indicate whether the character was a certain color and a certain shape. The kids who had participated in FITKids were significantly faster and more accurate at identifying the color and shape than children who weren't exercising. Brain scans of the FITKids participants showed more activity during these tasks than non-exercising kids. And the activity was in a section of the brain linked with attention span. Interestingly, the strength of this link corresponded to the amount of time kids spent in FITKids. The more times per week that they attended the program, the more activity their brains showed during academic-type tasks.

Another interesting takeaway is that these kids weren't running laps or tackling each other up and down a field. They were laughing, running, skipping, jumping and just, well, playing.  So this wasn't a hard-core exercise regimen.  It was a little more than an hour each day that these kids were encouraged to get outside and play. And that's almost exactly the amount of time that they lost when schools started taking away P.E. class and recess in order to squeeze in more time for academics.

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