Incorporating physical activity can help kids learn in school, according to Beilock:

“We can’t just keep students confined to their chairs — we have to get them up, out and moving. When the subjects are math or physics, getting students to actually physically experience some of the concepts they’re learning about changes how their brains process the information and can lead to better performance on a test.”

Movement also helps explain the connection between music and math. Why do kids tend to excel in both? It’s because the brain areas controlling finger dexterity and number largely overlap. In the book, Beilock unpacks the latest research showing that when kids exercise their fingers through regular piano play, their grasp of numbers improves.

Exercise can aid mental health as well as academic achievement, according to Beilock.

“The research shows that getting kids moving is important not only for their physical well-being but for their mental well-being, too.”

Boys’ academic achievement may especially benefit from recess, Beilock believes.

Exercise is not just for kids

Beilock believes that exercise is equally important for older adults, as it can promote healthy ageing mentally and physically.

“There are clear differences in brain health in fit, older adults compared with their more sedentary counterparts. And these differences carry consequences for thinking and reasoning as well as for memory.”

Beilock stresses that aerobic exercise, which can alter the structure and functioning of the brain, is key for improving mental health. Activities like swimming, running, cycling, walking briskly or even doing household chores at a vigorous pace can benefit the brain, in addition to keeping the body fit.

How the Body Knows Its Mind provides many tips on how to use one’s body, actions or surroundings to stimulate the mind and to influence those around you.

Sian Beilock is a professor in the Department of Psychology at The University of Chicago