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Jun 12, 2014 11:30 AM EDT

12 Minutes of Aerobic Exercise Improves Attention, Reading Comprehension in Low-Income Adolescents

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Twelve minutes of exercise can improve attention and reading comprehension in low-income adolescents, according to a recent study.

In their report, researchers from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire suggest that schools serving low-income populations should work brief bouts of exercise into their daily schedules.

"Low-income individuals experience more stress than high-income individuals, and stress impacts the same physiological systems that acute aerobic exercise activates," Michele Tine, study author and assistant professor of education and principal investigator in the Poverty and Learning Lab at Dartmouth, said in a statement.

For the study, researchers compared low-income adolescents with their high-income peers. While both groups saw improvement in selective visual attention up to 45 minutes after exercising, the low-income group experienced a bigger jump. The low-income students also improved on tests of reading comprehension following the physical activity, but the high-income students did not.

Tine suspects the two groups respond to exercise differently because they experience different levels of stress in life.

"Physiological measures were beyond the scope of this study, but low-income participants did report experiencing more stress. Alternatively, it is possible that low-income individuals improved more simply because they had more room to improve," Tine said.

The study a follow-up to one Tine published in 2012.

The earlier study found that brief aerobic exercise improved selective visual attention among children, with low-income participants experiencing the biggest improvement. Tine's latest study shows the effect holds true for adolescents (participants this time ranged from 17 to 21). It also explores, for the first time, exercise's effects on reading comprehension, an important research area because the gap between low- and high-income adolescents' reading comprehension is growing steadily.

The findings were recently published as part of the June volume of Frontiers in Psychology.

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