Regular physical activity can improve your child’s strength and endurance, help build healthy bones and muscles, control weight, reduce anxiety and stress, increase self-esteem and may improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels. But did you know that fitness can actually make your child smarter?
Studies are increasingly showing the positive effects that physical activity can have on a child’s brain function.
Positive changes in brain function
Children who do at least 60 minutes of physical activity after school every day may improve their cognitive functioning and brain health, according to research published in Paediatrics. The research from the University of Illinois noted that the researchers found significant changes in brain function, which relate to cognitive processing speed and the allocation of attention during cognitive tasks. He comments that children in the exercise group also showed improvements in their ability to block out distractions and focus on tasks (known as attentional inhibition).
In addition, they also had better cognitive flexibility; the ability to move between intellectual tasks without compromising accuracy and speed, and were twice as accurate as the control group in accuracy on cognitive tasks.
“The fact that the exercise group showed improvements in attention, were better able to avoid distractions and had a greater ability to switch between cognitive tasks than the control group demonstrate a causal effect of a physical activity programme on executive brain control,” said the study.
Exercise for kids with ADHD
Other studies have also shown a strong link between exercise and brain power. In a 2012 study, researchers at Michigan State University found that a daily 20-minute exercise session may boost academic performance in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Head researcher and assistant professor of Kinesiology, Prof Matthew Pontifex, said their findings “demonstrate for the first time that kids with ADHD can focus better and become less distracted after a quick session of exercise”.
This, he explained, is significant because inhibitory control (resisting distractions, giving a more considered response, avoiding one’s first reaction) is the biggest struggle people with ADHD have to cope with.
And just for general good brain-boosting, a 2014 issue of Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, cited articles by over 20 researchers that show that people who take part in more physical activity have larger brain volumes. This was apparent in the areas associated with memory and cognitive control that encompass behaviour, action, thought and decision-making.
So, what are you waiting for? Get those kids moving!