This article appeared recently and serves to support the growing belief in the role of movement in helping learning. It appeared in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Students who take part in physical exercises like star jumps or running on the spot during school lessons do better in tests than peers who stick to sedentary learning.
The meta-analysis of 42 studies around the world, aimed to assess the benefits of incorporating physical activity in academic lessons. This approach has been adopted by schools seeking to increase activity levelsamong students without reducing academic teaching time.
Typical activities include using movement to signify whether a fact is true or false, or jumping on the spot a certain number of times to answer a maths question.
The study concluded that incorporating physical activity had a large, significant effect on educational outcomes during the lesson, assessed through tests or by observing pupils’ attention to a given task, and a smaller effect on overall educational outcomes, as well as increasing the students’ overall levels of physical activity.
Lead author Dr. Emma Norris (UCL Centre for Behaviour Change, UCL Psychology & Language Sciences) said: “Physical activity is good for children’s health, and the biggest contributor of sedentary time in children’s lives is the seven or eight hours a day they spend in classrooms.
“Our study shows that physically active lessons are a useful addition to the curriculum. They can create a memorable learning experience, helping children to learn more effectively.”
Co-author Dr. Tommy van Steen (Leiden University, The Netherlands), added: “These improvements in physical activity levels and educational outcomes are the result of quite basic physical exercises. Teachers can easily incorporate these physical active lessons in the existing curriculum to improve the learning experience of students.”
Researchers looked at data from 12,663 students aged between three and 14. Nearly half of the studies took place in the United States, with seven conducted in Australia, five in the UK, four in the Netherlands and one in China, Croatia, Ireland, Israel, Portugal and Sweden.
In one of the 42 studies analysed, eight- and nine-year-olds simulated travelling the world by running on the spot in between answering questions relating to different countries. The research team, also led by Dr. Norris at UCL, concluded that the children were more active and more focused on the task than peers in a control group, following teachers’ instructions more closely.
In another study in the Netherlands, primary school children who took part in physically active lessons three times a week over two years made significantly better progress in spelling and mathematics than their peers—equating to four months of extra learning gains.
Parents and teachers tend to frown at children who fidget in our homes and classrooms. It is usually interpreted as a sign of boredom or lack of attention and so we order children to sit still. But now, a recent report in Medical Express (medicalexpress.com/news/2019-09-fidgeting-good-child-health.html)) suggests that fidgeting could actually be good for their health. Research suggests it might help protect against obesity, improve cardiovascular health, and even save lives.
Researchers from Australian universities measured the energy expenditure of 40 children aged four to six while each spent an hour in a room designed to calculate energy through the amount of oxygen breathed in and carbon dioxide breathed out.
The children all followed the same procedure for the hour: 30 minutes watching TV, ten minutes drawing or colouring in, and 20 minutes playing with toys on the floor. The number of times children changed posture was counted and taken as our measure of fidgeting.
The fidgeting that was witnessed varied enormously, despite all of the children following the standard set of activities. There were 53 posture changes per hour in the most fidgety third of the sample, and only 11 per hour in the least fidgety third. These differences directly affected the number of calories burned.
The difference between most and least fidgety groups was only around six calories per hour. But when extrapolated over months and years, this could lead to large differences in energy use.
After all, children of that age typically spend around nine to ten hours per day sitting down, so a six calorie difference per hour of sitting would become a difference of 60 calories per day, 420 calories per week (about three bags of crisps), and 22,000 calories per year (equivalent to about 2kg of body weight in a 20kg child).
They also found that children were much less fidgety while watching TV than when drawing, colouring, or playing with toys on the floor. This may partly explain why time spent watching TV increases the risk of obesity so strongly in children of this age compared to other sedentary activities.
Meanwhile, an older study found that more fidgety adults resisted weight gain when overfed compared to less fidgety individuals. Taken together, this evidence suggests that differences in the tendency to fidget might partly explain why some people are more susceptible to obesity than others.
It is now well established that prolonged periods of sitting are harmful to health, and it is possible that fidgeting might reduce the harms of sitting. A study of more than 12,000 adult women in the UK found, as expected, that the amount of time spent sitting per day predicted the risk of premature death over the subsequent 12 years.
At the start of the study the women had been asked to self-rate their tendency to fidget on a scale of one (no fidgeting) to ten (constant fidgeting). In the most fidgety third, the risks of premature death from sitting were substantially reduced compared to the least fidgety third.
Why fidgeting seemed to reduce premature mortality was not explored in that study. However, a more recent laboratory-based study in adultsfound that the harmful effects of prolonged sitting on blood vessels in the legs (such as reduced blood flow) could be mitigated by asking the study participants to fidget by moving their legs while sitting. Fidgety individuals may have some protection from cardiovascular diseasecompared to less fidgety individuals
Fidgeting is not considered as being important to health at the moment, but the growing body of research suggests that it should be. The evidence might even lead to new (and much needed) approaches to preventing obesity and promoting cardiovascular health.
Such approaches might be particularly practical as they involve fairly small changes in how we live. Fidgeting or standing breaks during long periods of sitting in the classroom, or at home, far from being an annoying habit, could be precisely what we need.
If you feel confused about what you should be reading and believing on food labels, you aren’t alone! Integrated Learning Therapy practitioners focus on young people so let’s see if we can offer some guidelines to steer you in the right direction regarding your children.
First of all, it is necessary to realise that labels are there for two main reasons. They tell us the name of the food or drink that we are looking at, what ingredients it is made of, its weight and where it comes from. They also are designed to tempt us into buying the product. It is their job to look attractive – hence they are colourful, have appealing pictures (aimed at the children) and try to highlight the nutritional and health credentials of the content (aimed at parents). Unfortunately, we can’t always believe the hype on the packaging. We simply have to be prepared to spend a few moments reading the label.
Ingredients are listed in their weight-descending order at the time the product is being prepared. This means that the first item on the list will be present in the largest quantity, and so on. When a product uses a variety of ingredients, such as herbs, but all in roughly the same quantity, then they can appear in any order.
Recently a friend bought a packet of Tasty Brown Onion – a 2-in-1 stew mix. The ingredients were listed as follows: Wheat flour, maize flour, salt, flavour enhancers (monosodium glutamate, E631, E627), flavouring, caramel colourant (E150c), radurised herbs, potassium chloride, sugar, vegetable oil (palm fruit, TBHQ). The nutritional information noted that, amongst other things, it contained minimal sugar but 378 mg of sodium (salt) per serving.
What do we make of this? There aren’t any onions in it, surprisingly! Seems like it contains only flour, flavourants, colourants and little more. Not very helpful, but the quantity of salt needs further examination.
Children’s recommended salt intake
As adults, we shouldn’t be having more than 6 grams (6 g) of salt per day (roughly one slightly rounded teaspoon). Children’s salt intake depends on their age, as shown below:
Children up to 6 months 1 g 1/5 teaspoon
7-12 months 1 g 1/5 teaspoon
1-3 years 2 g 2/5 teaspoon
4-6 years 3 g 3/5 teaspoon
7-10 years 5 g 1 teaspoon
The salt content of the stew mix is 378 mg, which is about 38% of 1 gram. This might sound well below the daily recommended amount for older children but because it is a ‘hidden’ ingredient in the dish being prepared, it would add considerably to the actual salt intake of a child over a day’s meals and snacks. As a general rule of thumb, the amount of salt (sodium) in any processed product would be considered low (i.e. a little) if less than 40 mg of sodium per 100 g of the product.
Some breakfast cereals, claiming to be lower in sugar, are very high in salt. This is done to improve the flavour of the food but doesn’t add to the health value. It’s quite common that children could be eating 30-40 percentage of the recommended daily amount of salt in a 30 g helping of cereal.
The presence of so many additives in the form of flavourants and colourants is also a red flag. Flavour enhancers do what they say – they perk up the taste in some foods. There are over 4 000 flavouring agents used in food, some of which are natural flavourings make some that are totally created by chemists and are not found anywhere in nature.
With the exception of flavourants, other additives carry an E number. The idea of the E number is to identify which have been declared ‘harmless’ by the European Union. However, if evidence mounts up to indicate that the additive might not be innocent, it can have its E number removed.
While many of us can consume many additives, some children prove to be more vulnerable to them. Here’s a list of preservatives that are best avoided if you are buying food or drinks for your children (or, of course, for yourself), particularly if they have any health issues, including learning difficulties:
E210 Benzoic acid
E211 Sodium benzoate
E211 Potassium benzoate
E213 Calcium benzoate
E214 Ethyl 4-hydroxybenzoate
E215 Ethyl 4-hydroxybenzoate sodium salt
E216 Propyl 4-hydroxybenzoate
E217 Propyl 4-hydroxybenzoate sodium salt
E218 Methyl 4-hydroxybenzoate
E219 Methyl 4-hydroxybenzoate sodium salt
E220 Sulphur dioxide
E221 Sodium dioxide
E222 Sodium hydrogen sulphite
E223 Sodium metabisulphite
E224 Potassium metabisulphite
E226 Calcium sulphite
E227 Calcium hydrogen sulphite
E232 Sodium biphenyl-2-yl oxide
E233 2-(Thiazol-4-yl) benzimidazole
E249 Potassium nitrate
E250 Sodium nitrate
E251 Sodium nitrate
E252 Potassium nitrate
And here’s a list of colourants that have been banned in many countries:
E104 Quinoline Yellow
E107 Yellow 2G
E110 Sunset Yellow
E124 Ponceau 4R
E128 Red 2G
E129 Allura Red
E131 Patent Blue V
E132 Indigo Carmine
E133 Brilliant Blue FCF
E142 Green S
E151 Black PN
E154 Brown FK
E154 Brown HT
Its really hard these days to avoid foods and drinks containing additives but it is possible to minimize intakes.
Minimising food additives
The easiest way to do this is to reduce the amount of processed foods that your family eats by going back to ‘traditional’ eating habits. Like your grandparents did, cook meat or fish or other protein source (eggs, cheese) and serve up with plenty of vegetables and fruit. Also cut back on shop-bought cakes and biscuits. It certainly helps to buy free range chickens, grass-fed beef and naturally raised pork. These may carry less of a load of the probiotics and other growth hormones used to boost meat production.
Any change you can make to your family’s diet that reduces the reliance on over-processed food, which by its nature requires lots of additives to give it form, taste, texture, colour and preservative qualities, is a step in the right direction
Isn’t this going overboard?
Are we being ridiculous? That’s an open question but going by the number of children whose symptoms have lessened with dietary changes, I believe that being cautious about food additives is sensible. Regulations for baby foods are very strict. However, after the age of 1 year, the guidelines disappear. The reasons for the levels of salt and additives being restricted in foods for babies is because their liver and kidneys, which have to deal with detoxifying these substances, are immature and simply can’t cope. It is hard to understand why older children are considered to have organs that suddenly can manage higher intakes. Toddlers and older children are exposed to foods and drinks rich in sugar, salt and additives.
So the only way you can ensure that your children are eating healthily is to be aware of how easy it is to shop for foods that may be more harmful than helpful. You simply have to be a ‘label detective’ to avoid the traps modern consumerism lays for you.