Sports to succeed? Athletic, fit kids show improved concentration, quality of life

MUNICH, Germany — What happens on the playing field may influence academic outcomes more than most assume. Physically fit primary school students generally feel better, find it easier to concentrate, and enjoy an overall higher quality of life than their less active peers, according to researchers from the Technical University of Munich. Study authors add that athletic primary school students are also more likely to move on to higher-level secondary grammar schools.

It’s no secret that getting outside and being active is good for the health of adolescents. This latest work, however, is the first ever to illustrate a correlation between physical fitness, concentration, and health-related quality of life among young children.

The research team analyzed 3,285 girls and 3,248 boys from Bavaria’s Berchtesgadener Land district in Germany for this project. More specifically, study authors utilized internationally standardized test procedures to gauge each student’s physical strength, endurance, capacity to concentrate, and health-related quality of life.

Overall, the results paint a clear picture. The more fit a child is, the better they can concentrate and the higher their health-related quality of life. Regarding gender, boys performed better on fitness tests, but girls scored higher in terms of concentration and quality of life values.

Weight can be an issue

Notably, overweight and obese children garnered poorer scores for all physical fitness tests in comparison to both underweight kids and those with normal body weight. Obese students also scored lower in terms of overall health-related quality of life, physical well-being, self-esteem, and friendships at school.

“Primary school pupils with good physical fitness and a good ability to concentrate are more likely to make it to secondary grammar schools,” says Prof. Renate Oberhoffer-Fritz, holder of the TUM Chair of Preventive Pediatrics and Dean of the TUM Department of Sport and Health Sciences, in a university release.

“This means it’s all the more important to encourage motor development in children at an early stage, since this can also have a positive impact on the development of mental fitness,” adds Prof. Oberhoffer-Fritz. “Collaboration among parents, schools, communities and athletic clubs is very important when it comes to creating a comprehensive and appropriate range of possibilities.”

“Based on the results of the study, since 2019 the Berchtesgadener Land District Administration Office has been giving all first grade pupils in the region a voucher for a one year membership in a sports club. This is a great example for how different stakeholders can work together and help motivate children to be more athletically active,” concludes Dr. Thorsten Schulz, head of the study team at TUM.

The study is published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine.

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