Physical Activity Improves Children’s Thinking Skills

kidsexerciseThere is increasing evidence that being active helps not just children’s waistlines but also their brains.

A recent study published in Pediatrics shows that 7- to 9-year-old children who run around and play for at least 70 minutes a day demonstrate improved thinking skills, particularly in multitasking, compared to children who aren’t as active.

For the study, researchers looked at a nine-month after-school program during which students spent 70 minutes running around and playing tag, soccer, jump rope and other games. In one multitasking test, children were shown a character on the screen and indicated with a thumb press whether the character was a certain color and a certain shape. Children who participated in the program were significantly faster and more accurate at identifying the color and shape than children who weren’t exercising.

Scans of the children’s brains showed increased brain activity during the task, in a network known to correspond to paying attention. Interestingly, the changes in brain activity correlated to the amount of time kids spent in in the program. The more times they attended, the greater the change.

Exercise encourages the brain to work at optimum capacity by causing nerve cells to multiply, strengthening their interconnections and protecting them from damage. Animal tests have also illustrated that during exercise their nerve cells release proteins known as neurotrophic factors. One in particular, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), triggers numerous other chemicals that promote neural health, and has a direct benefit on brain functions, including learning.

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