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PE can boost braun and brain, teachers say

Children who exercised for three nights a week have more grey matter in areas of the brain linked to reading and verbal communication

PHYSICAL fitness in children may have an influence on their academic performance, new research has found.

A university study has suggested that exercise may affect pupils' brain structure, which in turn could help them perform better in school.

Researchers from the University of Granada in Spain said aerobic capacity and motor ability was associated with a greater volume of gray matter.

Those who exercised for at least three nights a week had more grey matter in areas of the brain linked to reading and verbal communication.

The fitter the youngster became the greater the change, they found.

Teachers in the north welcomed the findings and suggested that investment in PE could be the key to boosting pupil achievement.

Ulster Teachers' Union general secretary Avril Hall Callaghan said the findings were exciting.

She added they were timely, coming as hundreds of girls from the north took part in a separate study looking at why their gender does not exercise as much as boys.

The Women in Sport study said PE was "perceived as an unimportant subject for girls to be good at, despite its impact in developing valuable life skills such as team work and self-confidence".

Some girls said they enjoyed competition but disliked some of the behaviours that were associated with it, such as aggressiveness.

"Despite a summer full of women's sport in Northern Ireland - the UEFA Women's Under 19s Championship and the Women's Rugby World Cup - and although things are starting to change slowly, there are still many barriers to girls taking part in sport," Ms Hall Callaghan said.

"Now girls from Northern Ireland have helped provide information so changes can be made which will hopefully enable more of them to take part in sport and benefit as a result - maybe even improve their academic achievement."

Children's physical skills, she added, were "hard wired" by the time they are seven.

Introducing new skills beyond this age would prove more challenging as their cognitive ability developed to a point where the `can't do' attitude ignites, she said.

"By working together, primary and secondary schools can map the transition from KS2 to KS3 and beyond," Ms Hall Callaghan added.

"Finding out which sports and activities the girls enjoy in primary school and immediately engaging them in those when they get to secondary school, will go some way to help.

"We would urge decision-makers and funders to take all this on board and make this new year one that really counts for our young people, their good health and their academic achievement."

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