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[Op-Ed] Exercise and Academic Ability

Posted October. 15, 2009 08:30,   


Korean children today are taller and bigger than in the past but their physical strength is declining, according to a report submitted to the National Assembly by the Education, Science and Technology Ministry yesterday. The share of public school students who got the top grades in physical strength was 33 percent last year, down from 41 percent in 2000. By contrast, the proportion of those getting the lowest scores rose 11 percentage points to 42 percent over the same period. The decline in physical strength is more acute among high school seniors, with 49 percent of them getting the worst grades.

A rise in the number of students with a weak constitution is attributed to excessive study, increase in sedentary activities such as watching TV and using the Internet, decline in exercise, and more consumption of fast food. In particular, high school seniors do not take physical education classes. This situation is in stark contrast to the situation at foreign schools, where students preparing for college entrance exams spend more time on physical activity.

High school seniors in Korea just hit the books despite research results saying a sedentary lifestyle is detrimental to study. Exercise helps create links between neurons and provides oxygen and nutrition to brain cells. Microbiologist John Medina say exercise creates a kind of narcotics called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) in the brain, which enhances intellectual capabilities. Harvard University professor John Ratey also stressed the importance of exercise by saying it helps people stay focused, maintain composure, and control impulses.

A team of Duke University researchers conducted an experiment on mice in 2001. Mice that worked out had better memory and were better in planning and problem solving than those that did not exercise. In a word, exercise made mice wiser. A close relationship exists between exercise and scholastic ability. Occasionally exercising while studying is more effective than studying all day long. Declining physical strength means declining academic ability. To enhance academic ability, schools should provide quality physical education and manage the physical strength of students in a systematic way.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)