“A total of 21 schools in South Limburg participated in the study,” says Annelore Verhagen, one of the researchers and PhD candidate at the UM. “At ten of those, the so-called ‘Active living programme’ was introduced. This entailed schools stimulating children, for example, to walk or cycle to school and to exercise more during the breaks.” Schools themselves decided how they would implement this: “They set out an area for Twister, installed a football goal, or bought balls and skipping ropes.” The other schools formed a control group, where nothing changed.
“We measured the learning achievements one year before and one year after the introduction of the ‘Active living programme’ at all schools.” What appeared? “At the schools with an exercise programme, the learning achievements deteriorated in comparison with the children in the control group schools.” This was a surprising result at first, says Verhagen. “Previous research had shown that sports are good for cognitive abilities.”
“We think that it is among other things because of increased restlessness,” Verhagen explains. It takes a while before pupils have cooled down after cycling, or playing during the break. “Questionnaires showed that after the introduction of the programme, children said more often about themselves that they found it more difficult to sit quietly and remain calm when the teacher asked them to do so.” Another possible explanation is that every minute extra that children exercise is, of course, at the expense of activities that are beneficial for school performance, such as schoolwork.
Exercising is good for one's health, “but the way in which you want to encourage exercising is important. Our research shows that not all kinds of stimulation to exercise will always have positive side effects,” says Verhagen.