December 2, 2021


Keep Fit & Healthy

Fourth graders in Ulaanbaatar who exercise are smarter

2 min read

Those of you who avidly read my column may have noticed a lapse in the last few weeks. There is a simple explanation. Nothing I have read has inspired me.

My curiosity was finally sparked by this report in Pediatrics (1) that showed that an exercise prescription for fourth graders in Ulaanbaatar significantly improved their academic achievement.

The first thing I had to do was look up where Ulaanbaatar is. It is the capital of Mongolia which is a democratic country half of whose land area is the Gobi desert. Ulaanbaatar is kind of like Denver, high, dry and cold.

This project was led by Japanese investigators who enrolled children from 6 elementary schools in and around Ulaanbaatar who met the following inclusion criteria: (1) were in fourth grade at one of the included schools, (2) had written consent from parents or guardians, and (3) were able to speak, read, and understand Mongolian. They randomly assigned 3 of those schools to the intervention of two stages of high intensity exercise routine for a prescribed length of time every day for 10 weeks. The other 3 comparison schools continued their usual physical education class that was not nearly as strenuous. After the 10 weeks, the exercised children had significantly higher improvement on math and language testing than the children in the control schools. There was no effect on weight gain. In fact the exercised kids gained more.

God meant for little kids to exercise since by nature they never stop running around in circles. It’s a miracle that teachers could ever get them to sit down and learn stuff. It makes sense to me that recess is absolutely necessary in school and maybe a higher intensity of exercise will help even more. It’s also highly probable that trying to spend more time teaching math and reading by getting rid of recess and gym would be worse than useless.

1. Takahara K et al. Exercise Intervention for Academic Achievement Among Children: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Pediatrics (2021) 148 (5): e2021052808. (

This writer’s opinion is their own and not the opinion of this newspaper.

John DiTraglia M.D. is a Pediatrician in Portsmouth. He can be reached by e-mail- [email protected] or phone-354-6605.

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