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Schoolgirls Who Walk Perform Better on Cognitive Tests

Update Date: Jul 24, 2013 06:06 PM EDT

Walking to school may give teenage girls a cognitive boost, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that adolescent girls who walk to school perform better on cognitive tests than girls who travel by bus or car. What's more, girls who take more than 15 minutes to walk to school have better cognitive performance than those who live closer and have a shorter walk to school.

The study looked at a sample of 1700 boys and girls aged between 13 and 18 years who live in five Spanish cities (Granada, Madrid, Murcia, Santander and Zaragoza).

Researchers accounted for various factors like body mass index, physical activity, family socioeconomic status, mother's level of educational achievement and type of school. Data on mode of commuting to school came from surveys asking participants how they usually travelled to school and giving the following response options: on foot, by bicycle, car, bus or subway, motorcycle, and others. Participants were also asked how long on average it takes them to get to school.

Researchers measured cognitive performance by administering the Spanish version of an educational ability test. The standardized test measures intelligence and the individual's basic ability for learning. The test also assesses the students' language, math and reasoning abilities.

Researchers said that during adolescence, "the plasticity of the brain is greater than at any other time of life, which makes it the opportune period to stimulate cognitive function".  However, adolescence is also the time that sees the greatest decline in physical activity, particularly in girls.

Researchers said the latest findings suggest that "inactive adolescents could be missing out on a very important stimulus to improve their learning and cognitive performance".

"Commuting to school on foot is a healthy daily habit, which contributes to keeping the adolescent active during the rest of the day and encourages them to participate in physical and sports activities. This boosts the expenditure of energy and, all in all, leads to a better state of health," Palma Chillón, researcher in the Department of Physical and Sports Education of the University of Granada said in a news release.

The findings are published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

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