Children who were fitter performed better than their peers in cognitive tasks, a new study found.
Researchers found that on average primary school pupils who were fitter had better response times in tasks, including visual and reading activities and memory tasks, than those who did not run as far.
Those who ran the furthest on a fitness test were considered to be the fittest pupils.
The study looked at the effect on children’s learning and memory following the Daily Mile – a school-based physical activity which is implemented in schools across the UK.
It involves students running or jogging at their own pace, usually via laps of the playground or sports pitch.
One hundred and four pupils, from eight primary schools, aged nine to 11 undertook a series of cognitive function tasks following exercise and rest.
The cognitive tasks were attempted by pupils immediately after exercise and 45 minutes after exercise.
Cognition refers to the mental processes involved in gaining knowledge and comprehension.
Scientists at Nottingham Trent University found that while exercise did not improve cognition overall, executive function – a set of mental skills that includes working memory, flexible thinking and self-control – tended to improve immediately after exercise.
Those considered as the most fit showed better cognition to their peers, completing tasks on average 5-10% faster and just as accurately, the study found.
Researchers also found the children particularly liked the self-paced nature of the Daily Mile, the social aspect and the fact that it was outdoors.
They say this suggests the exercise could be an effective and sustainable way to increase physical activity, and subsequently fitness, in children.
Lead researcher Dr Simon Cooper, associate professor in exercise, cognition and health in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Science and Technology, said: “A consistent finding of our work was that the children who were able to run the furthest during the multi-stage fitness test displayed superior cognition to their counterparts.
“Our work shows the importance of regular opportunities for physical activity in schools, not just for health and wellbeing but also cognition and academic achievement.”
The study is published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise.