Finally, a scientifically proven reason to let your child hang on to the monkey bars longer – he or she may actually get better grades in school. More and more studies are discovering that physical exercise not only improves skeletal and muscular strength and boosts immune system – it also benefits cognitive development in children.
Exercise stimulates and tones brain areas
Apparently, the more your child moves, the more action the brain gets. Studies show that children who are physically active perform better in school, and score higher on their academic exams. That said, a child who sits and listens to a teacher may be absorbing less than a child who has Physical Education (P.E.) before an academic lesson.
The University of Illinois has recently performed two separate studies independent of each other, related to children’s physical fitness and brain functions. The first study found that children who were physically active larger basal ganglia, an area of the brain responsible for executive control and crucial to an individual’s ability to pay and maintain attention. Executive control refers to the brain’s capability to link thoughts and actions in an organized and coordinated manner. This can be manifested in how children who are fit and sporty generally have better motor coordination.
In the other study conducted by the same university, it was found that fit kids had larger hippocampi, the part of the brain responsible for memory. This means children who spend a good time playing sports and exercising also have better chances of retaining new knowledge.
Although these two studies were conducted independently of each other, it can be inferred that improved basal ganglia and a heftier hippocampus may work together to enhance a child’s neuro-cognition and develop intricate thought processes.
Sedentary lifestyles in children compromises learning ability
A study at the Georgia Health Sciences University in Augusta was led by clinical health psychologist Catherine Davis to show the link between obesity and sedentary lifestyles in children and their ability to plan, think and absorb knowledge.
It isn’t new information that physical activity is one of the best treatments for childhood overweight and obesity, but this research has found that increased exercise among children who are overweight (and even those within normal weight ranges) also increased activities in brain areas where concentration, self-control, and intricate thoughts are processed. All these changes could ultimately improve their performance in school.
Physical activity improves performance in Math
Davis’ study also showed how vigorous exercise could help overweight kids achieve better mathematical skills. 171 overweight children between 7 and 11 years of age were gathered and subjected to zero, 20, or 40 minutes of vigorous (as proven by an increase of up to 79% in heart rate) exercise daily. The exercise program was not structured for skill or competition – rather it prioritized free play and fun and included some running, using jump ropes and even hula hoops.
After the exercise, the children had to take standard cognitive achievements tests such as the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement III and the Cognitive Assessment System. The children’s brains were also scanned via MRI.
The children who exercised for 40 minutes daily showed test scores with about a 3.8 points increase. Also, MRIs illustrated increased activity in brain areas responsible for abstract thinking, planning and reasoning, processes crucial to math skills. There was also some decreased activity behind the prefrontal cortex, a probable sign of faster cognitive development.
All in all, parents should take a lead in ensuring that their children lead balanced lives and enjoy a good amount of time for play and sports. Schools should also focus on improving their physical education curricula to help children make the most out of their PE classes.
Skinny Mom Fact: The typical child in America spends more time watching television than doing anything else besides sleeping. Join us here at Team Skinny Mom to change this!