The proverb "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" has now been proven by researchers with a new study.
School students who take part in physical activity during class lessons do better in tests than students who stick to sedentary learning, according to the findings published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Physical activity during academic lessons involves star jumps or running in place, 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.
This approach has been adopted by various schools seeking to increase activity levels among students without reducing academic teaching time.
The study said incorporating physical activity had a large, significant effect on educational outcomes during lessons, assessed through tests or by observing students' attention to a given task, and a smaller effect on overall educational outcomes, as well as increasing the students' overall levels of physical activity.
"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," said Lead author Dr Emma Norris (UCL Centre for Behaviour Change, UCL Psychology & Language Sciences).
"Physically active lessons are a useful addition to the curriculum. They can create a memorable learning experience, helping children to learn more effectively," Ms Norris added.
Co-author Dr Tommy van Steen (Leiden University, The Netherlands), said 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."
For the study, 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 that were analysed, eight- and nine-year-olds simulated travelling the world by running on the spot in between answering questions relating to different countries.
Researchers 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.