Your Brain on Exercise


Amy Collins, OTR, MOT
Manager, School-Based Therapy Services, Harris County Dept. of Education​

It’s plain to see the lack of movement opportunities our students have at school these days. Some believe that more time spent on academics and less time spent on physical activity will lead to improved achievement test scores in students. However, research supports the idea that physical activity leads to improved school performance in a variety of ways, and spending time during the school day on recess and physical education does not negatively impact test scores (CDC, 2010).

A report from the Institute of Medicine (2013) suggests that active children are better able to attend, process information more quickly, and perform better on standardized academic tests. Studies at the cellular level indicate that physical activity stimulates production of new nerve cells involved in learning and memory, encourages nerve cells to interconnect and communicate in new ways, and optimizes brain function, especially the executive functions.  In addition, there is research to support connections between physical activity and improved mental health (Taliaferro et al., 2008).

There are many ways schools can increase movement opportunities. Making time for recess, PE classes that focus on teaching personal fitness, providing opportunities for physical activity before and after school, and incorporating and increasing tolerance to movement in the classroom are just some solutions schools can implement.

School-based occupational and physical therapists can help advocate for more physical activity and provide specific strategies to help students increase activity levels, for example, working with teachers to develop lessons that require students to stand or move around the room. Here are some terrific resources to help you get started:

Educating the Student Body - Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School ​



Taliaferro, Rienzo, Miller, Pigg, & Dodd (2008). High school youth and suicide risk: Exploring protection afforded through physical activity and spot participation. Journal of School Health, 78, 545-553. 


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Amy Collins, OTR, MOT


​The academic benefits of physical exercise.

Created at 9/27/2019 11:52 AM by Srivani Erukulla
Last modified at 6/21/2021 2:56 PM by Janine Calmes