Can Biking Make You Smarter?


THE RESEARCH IS STACKING UP: physical activity gives you an increased power of concentration and self-esteem, which can lead to higher test scores in school. If you are in the habit of driving your kids to school, or yourself to work… you might reconsider.

One of the main conclusions of a comprehensive Danish project, the Mass Experiment 2012, found that kids who walk or bike to school score higher on concentration tests than those who went by car, train or bus. The project also showed that the effects of exercise last for about four hours of the school day. The study looked at nearly 20,000 kids between the ages of 5 and 19. Why would physical activity positively influence academic performance? There are several ideas, including:

➤ Increased blood and oxygen flow to the brain;

➤ Increased levels of norepinephrine and endorphins resulting in a reduction of stress and an improvement of mood;

➤ Increased growth factors that help to create new nerve cells and support synaptic plasticity.


A similar but smaller study conducted by the University of North Texas in 2012 had comparable findings. Cardiorespiratory fitness was the only factor that was consistently found to have an impact on both boys’ and girls’ performance on reading and math tests. In 2010, researchers at the University of Illinois found physical evidence supporting the idea that physical activity supports synaptic plasticity. Researchers measured how efficiently 49 children used oxygen while on a treadmill to determine their fitness level. They then used an MRI to measure the size of the hippocampus, a structure tucked deep within the brain. A bigger hippocampus is associated with better performance on spatial reasoning and other cognitive tasks. Researchers learned that physically fit children tended to have bigger hippocampal volume than their out-of-shape peers. Finally, they found that fit children performed better on tests of relational memory the ability to remember and integrate various types of information.

Clearly, exercise is really important for children! But with tight budgets and mounting academic pressures, physical education can fall to the bottom of a school’s priority list. One way to counter this issue is to have more kids walk or bike to school. We know that often parents drive their kids to school because walking or biking on streets designed for cars makes the journey


Seattle is going to build 250 miles of neighborhood greenways (family-friendly residential streets) and 100 miles of protected bike lanes over the next 20 years. Complimenting this effort is our Safe Routes to School Program and our Vision Zero Plan.


In the meantime, get together with other parents and form ‘walking buses’ or ‘bike trains’ to add a fun activity to a student’s day; it might even build enthusiasm for going to school. Always share the rules of the road with participating children! If they are on a bike, make sure to grab helmets for everyone and practice biking in advance. Recruit one parent or volunteer per every three to six children and go for it!

Because remember, biking can make you smarter!