Exercise’s Effects on Attention, Reading Comprehension

By Ryan Halvorson
Aug 13, 2014

In a study of the effects of exercise on academic performance, researchers looked at how much exercise is required to enhance student attention and reading comprehension. The scientists also wanted to know if results would be different for low and high-income families.

The report, published in Frontiers in Psychology (2014; doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00575), included data from 85 individuals aged 17–21 who were enrolled at a liberal arts college. Participants were initially separated into high and low-income groups. They were then assigned to either an exercise group or a control group. Subjects were considered low-income if they were raised in a household in which total annual income was below $31,720.50. They were considered high-income if they grew up in a household in which the annual income was higher than $41,737.50.

Researchers gathered data on weight, BMI, resting heart rate, maximum heart rate and target heart rate range for each student. Subjects completed tasks designed to test selective visual attention (SVA) and reading comprehension and answered surveys on stress and other basic information.

Individual heart rates were measured after an SVA pre-test. Next, subjects jogged on a treadmill for 12 minutes while maintaining their target heart rates. The control group viewed a 12-minute video on the benefits of aerobic exercise. Immediately following the intervention, each student completed an SVA test and a reading comprehension task.

So, what did the researchers find?
They discovered that SVA improved in all exercise subjects. The improvement remained in effect for 45 minutes post intervention and was “particularly large” among the low-income group.

“The mean reading comprehension score of the low-income adolescents who engaged in 12 minutes of acute aerobic exercise was higher than the mean reading comprehension scores of the low-income adolescents who watched a 12-minute movie,” added the study authors.

There was no statistical difference in post intervention reading comprehension for the two high-income groups. “Based on the results, schools serving low-income adolescents should consider implementing brief sessions of aerobic exercise during the school day,” suggested the authors.

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Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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