Many teenagers are more interested in watching TV and playing video games than exercising. But new research has presented them with another reason to get active – regular moderate to vigorous exercise could boost their academic performance.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), regular physical activity in childhood and adolescence has many significant benefits, including helping to build healthy bones and muscles, improving strength and endurance and increasing self-esteem.

But statistics from the CDC show that in 2011, only 29% of high school students participated in 60 minutes of physical activity a day – the amount of activity recommended by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Researchers from the UK say that if their findings – published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine – are confirmed through further research, it could present significant implications for public health and education policy.

The research team analyzed a sample of 5,000 children who were a part of a Children of the 90s study.

The children, aged 11, were required to wear an accelerometer on an elasticated belt for a period of 3-7 days, in order for the researchers to monitor their daily duration and intensity of physical activity.

Results from the accelerometer showed that on average, boys carried out 29 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each day, while girls carried out 18 minutes. The researchers note that this is significantly less than the 60 minutes of exercise each day recommended by health officials.

These results were then compared with the children’s academic performance in English, mathematics and science in the compulsory national test key stage 1 at age 11, key stage 2 at age 13, and General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) at ages 15/16.

The findings revealed that at age 11, higher levels of moderate to vigorous exercise correlated with better academic performance across all three subjects for both boys and girls.

Girls in particular demonstrated a significant improvement in science performance as a result of physical activity.

At age 13, better academic performance was also linked to increased physical activity.

At age 15/16, every additional 17 minutes of exercise a day for boys and 12 minutes for girls was linked to better examination results. Again, females demonstrated the highest benefit of exercise through their science results.

The researchers say that these results suggest that devoting more time to physical education benefits not only the health and well-being of teenagers, but also their academic attainment, encouraging the need for public health and education policy interventions.

They add:

If MVPA (moderate-vigorous physical activity) does influence academic attainment, this has implications for public health and education policy by providing schools and parents with a potentially important ‘stake’ in meaningful and sustained increases in physical activity.”

Furthermore, they note that although it could be a “chance finding” that increase in physical activity was linked to better science performance in females, this could also signify gender differences in the brain as a result of exercise.

However, they add that further research is required in order to confirm and understand this finding.

Earlier this year, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that current recommendations for children to exercise a minimum of 1 hour a day is not enough.