A CHILD’S attention span and memory improves after exercise, researchers have found.

A study of almost 12,000 children found that pupils’ best responses to tests came after physical activity that was set at their own pace, as opposed to exhaustive exercise.

A total of 11,613 children in the UK signed up to participate in the research – including 1,536 from Scotland. The work was jointly led by Dr Colin Moran and Dr Naomi Brooks, of Stirling University, and Dr Josie Booth, of Edinburgh University.

Dr Brooks said: “Ultimately, we found that 15 minutes of self-paced exercise can significantly improve a child’s mood, attention and memory – enhancing their ability to learn.”

The study is part of the BBC Learning’s Terrific Scientific campaign, designed to inspire schoolchildren to pursue a career in science. It was part-funded by the University of Edinburgh and the Physiological Society.

Children took part in intense bleep tests where they were pushed to their limits, a run/walk activity at a speed of their own choice for 15 minutes, and a control activity that saw them sitting or standing outside for 15 minutes.

Compared to the control, children reported feeling more awake after taking a break and doing exercise for a short time. Both the bleep test and the run/walk made participants feel more awake than the control activity. The children also said they felt better after doing the run/walk.

Children responded quicker to an attention task after completing the run/walk, compared to the control and bleep test activities, and were better at controlling their responses after doing the run/walk and bleep test than they were after the control activity. Following the run/walk, children’s ability to remember words in sentences improved, while there was no difference between the bleep test and control activity.

Dr Moran said: “Overall, our study concluded that exercising leads to improvements in children’s mood and cognition.”

Dr Booth said: “This suggests that children should be encouraged to exercise at their own pace during short breaks. This may help children be more ready to learn.”