Want to help your child do better in school? After homework, take junior for a bike ride–or offer to play a game of catch.

Research suggests that a sound body provides a solid foundation for academic success. A University of Illinois study found that kids who lagged in physical fitness assessments also did poorly on state achievement tests.

“We have found a strong relationship between academic achievement and fitness scores,” said lead researcher Darla Castelli. Given the fact that nearly one-third of students aren’t getting the minimum hour of exercise each day, considered essential by the National Institutes of Health, any education reform geared toward improving academic excellence ought to include physical fitness as part of the equation.

You don’t need to be a Harvard professor to see how fitness could boost brainpower — but I guess it helps. “Physical exercise causes the release of nerve growth factors in the brain,” says Dr. John Ratey, of Harvard Medical School. “Exercise is like Miracle-Gro, like fertilizer for the brain,” Ratey said. “It keeps nerve cells healthy and helps them bind together, which is the basis for learning.”

So encourage your child to be a smart jock–and make physical activity part of the climb to the head of the class.

Published August 1, 2013