skip to Main Content

How Exercise Will Help Your Child Get Better Grades

By Alexander VanHouten, Master Trainer & Life Time Education Specialist

How active are your kiddos?

If they’re anything like the average American, not as active as they need to be.

And although the same complications for inactivity apply to you as they do your child, (insulin resistance, energy and mood regulation, body fat accumulation, etc…) studies are showing that a lack of activity can hinder your children from becoming the best version of themselves EVEN MORE SO than it can you.

Affecting everything from how well they can focus on complex problems, (math and science), their creative flow (art and music) or how well they remember what a word means, (reading and writing) the role of exercise in the development of your child’s mind, and therefore academic performance, is irreplaceable.

More important, the damage done by inactivity through childhood and adolescents may well be irreparable, stifling your child’s mind, mood, energy, emotions, focus and success for the rest of their lives.

Pay close attention. This one goes out to the children.

A Day In the 21st Century Life of Max

Picture this: Max, a 12 year old boy wakes up. Goes downstairs to scarf down his breakfast, kisses his mom while she hands him his lunch and scoots out the door just in time to catch his friends walking to school. They talk and joke and play tag hauling their backpacks full of books to first period. During his school day, he learns material from several subjects with two notable breaks from academics – outside recess during the mid-morning and physical education near the end of the day. After school is over, he goes to soccer practice and takes the game back to his house when it’s over. His mother calls him in for dinner just as the sun is going down. He eats, does his chores (dishes and laundry) and homework, and builds a fort with his little brother and sister before his mom announces it’s time for bed. Exhausted, he crashes in his dark room ready to wake up and do it all again.

Sounds like a good day! But is that what our kids do today?

Same boy. Same day, just in the 21st century. What’s his day look like now?

Wakes up, jumps in the car with mom to grab a pre-made breakfast sandwich at Starbucks®. On the way, his siblings are watching frozen on their iPads and he’s snapchatting his friends all the way to school. Once in class, all of the subject matter is in his school computer so there is no need to get up and go to another class. Teachers rotate to the students. Minus a few breaks to go to the bathroom, his entire day is spent sitting in front of the computer because recess and physical education have been replaced to save money and spend the time “more productively” in preparation for standardized tests.[i] He doesn’t like soccer because it makes him turn red and feel out of breath so he catches a ride home with mom and the little ones. A movie is still playing in the back seat, but now he’s scrolling through Facebook®  (Snapchat is a morning thing). Once home, he does his homework—more sitting on the computer, plays an hour of video games, does his chores, and then watches Netflix on the TV in his room. At 10pm, his mom comes in to tell him to shut the TV off. He passes out around 12am while scrolling through Instagram® on his phone.

I know the dramatization is an overly assumptive generalization of kids today, but take a serious look around at the kids in your life. Nephew, granddaughter, offspring…how active are their days, really?

I bet you’ll never guess what science shows it’s doing to them.

Attention Deficit Disorder

11% of children ages 4-17 were diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder nationwide in 2011. It is expected to have risen beyond 15% in 2015.[ii] Of those children diagnosed, 13.2% were male and 5.2% female, with 7 years old being the average age of diagnosis. These children have been treated with a combination of medication (usually Adderall, which has been in the news recently due to concerns over about side effects, it’s misuse, and it’s close chemical relationship to methamphetamine)[iii] and cognitive behavioral therapy. The “success rate” of such treatment is measured in a slight improvement in academic performance, reported improvement in parental “ease” and a slight rise in IQ.

What if I told you there is other research that shows a regular regimen of physical activity had the same, sometimes better, treatment outcomes? It’s true, check them out.[iv][v][vi]

Is it a coincidence that the most adult-active states (Nevada, Colorado) have the least child ADD diagnosis, while the least active states (Kentucky, Tennessee) have the most ADD kiddos? I think not.

When I was a 4 year old boy, brimming with energy and insufferably playing ball in the living room, my mamma would take me outside. “Al, how fast can you run around the house?” ZOOM! I’d take off as fast as I could. Panting as I came back, “Woah! 24 seconds! That was SOO fast! Can you go faster?” ZOOM! 12 laps later, I’d lay worn out on the ground and she’d high five me. “Dude, you’re such a fast kid. And you keep getting faster!”

Though I can’t say I am an Olympic sprinter thanks to Coach Mom, I can say that her understanding of the importance of physical activity, positive association, and play in focusing the energies of a young boy were a huge piece of my academic success. Research supports her intuition. Thanks Mom!

Thus, I am tempted to endorse my wife’s redefinition of ADD in the large majority of the diagnosed youth of today as ACTIVITY DEFICIT DISORDER. That’s something we can remedy, right?

Let’s start by talking about our schools.

Changes we Need to See in Schools

In our age of technology, there are two very important things we need for our children as they develop.

  • How to fit activity breaks into their future, otherwise-sedentary lifestyles (don’t you wish someone would’ve taught you that?!)
  • How to fit enough activity into their day so that their brains develop fully in order to face the challenges of adult life.

Number one is not impossible. It’s called recess! And despite almost being wiped out, it’s fighting to make a comeback as it is continually shown to improve cognitive processes and productivity in children.[vii]

The Center for Disease Control has warned against the removal of recess from the school day for nearly 10 years,[viii] but it hasn’t stopped schools from getting rid of it altogether to make room for “more productive” things.[ix] Eagle Mountain Elementary in Fort Worth, TX went WAY against the grain and found positive results in focus, performance and obedience in children when they tripled recess time in 4 sessions throughout the day![x]

But you don’t have to get crazy with recess to see results in school. In an attempt to help her students be more active, one fourth-grade teacher I know has implemented “brain-breaks” in her gifted students’ day. Every 50 minutes, they take a 10-minute walk around the school cafeteria (or outside if weather permits) and she has seen her class test scores increase, disciplinary actions decrease and time needed to complete lessons decrease.

“I was hesitant because I thought the time taken from the lesson would put us behind. However, I found that we got through material just fine. I never realized how much time was wasted in a day dealing with behaviors that could easily be mitigated by helping the kids manage their physical energy better!”

The fight is being fought in schools to help our kids with number one. But to address number two, your kids need you to fight the good fight at home.

Brain Development

I have written about how to get more activity in your grown-up day and why exercise helps your brain, but what can you do to optimize your child’s activity?

Just like you, your child’s cerebellum is buzzing with 10% of the neurons available in their brain that are involved in just about every process that the brain controls.

And just like you, your child’s cerebellum is developed further when they are actively learning new motor skills.[xi]

In other words, karate, gymnastics, sports, weight lifting, ninja warrior-training (no joke, it exists[xii]), rock climbing, etc…all of these exercise modalities can improve your child’s brain development for life.

At Life Time, we believe your pursuit of fitness should also benefit the development of your child’s brain. For young children, our child center is jam-packed with activities and games to enhance your child’s physical activity and development while you’re working out.

Also, in the near future, we will offer free workshops to teach safety and weight training basics. Be on the lookout for those workshops coming soon!

Meld the Old with The New

Our age of technology allows us so many advantages and comforts.

But does that mean we will neglect the activity of the past at the expense of the well-being of the new and growing generation?

I hope this article has convinced you that it doesn’t have to, and that I’ll be able to high-five both you and your kiddos on the fitness floor in the coming months while you rid your home of ADD through regular activity, developing healthy cerebellums by learning new motor skills and supporting more recess in your child’s school.

As for me and my kiddo, I am saving this document and we’re taking a few laps. Set a stop-watch and time us.



[i] Henley J, McBride J, Milligan J, Nichols J Robbing elementary students of their childhood: the perils of No Child Left Behind. Education. 2007;128(1):56–63






[vii] Jarrett O. Recess in elementary school: what does the research say? ERIC Digest. ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education; July 1, 2002. Available Accessed September 13, 2011

[viii] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Promoting better health for young people through physical activity and sports; 2000. Appendix 7. Available at: Accessed September 13, 2011

[ix] McMurrer J. NCLB Year 5: Choices, Changes, and Challenges: Curriculum and Instruction in the NCLB Era. Washington, DC: Center on Education Policy; 2007. Available at: Accessed September 13, 2011




The posts on this blog are not intended to suggest or recommend the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease, nor to substitute for medical treatment, nor to be an alternative to medical advice. The use of the suggestions and recommendations on this blog post is at the choice and risk of the reader.
Back To Top