The evidence is mounting that exercise can improve cognition in kids as well as adults.
Regular exercise improves the ability of overweight, previously inactive children to think, plan and even do math, Georgia Health Sciences University researchers report.
They hope the findings in 171 overweight 7- to 11-year-olds -- all sedentary when the study started -- gives educators the evidence they need to ensure that regular, vigorous physical activity is a part of every school day, said Dr. Catherine Davis, clinical health psychologist at GHSU's Georgia Prevention Institute and corresponding author on the study in Health Psychology.
"I hope these findings will help reestablish physical activity's important place in the schools in helping kids stay physically well and mentally sharp," Davis said. "For children to reach their potential, they need to be active."
Exercise Improves Executive Function and Achievement and Alters Brain Activation in Overweight Children: A Randomized, Controlled Trial
Catherine L. Davis Medical College of Georgia
Nathan E. Yanasak and Jerry D. Allison Medical College of Georgia
Phillip D. Tomporowski, Jennifer E. McDowell,
Benjamin P. Austin, and Patricia H. Miller University of Georgia
Jack A. Naglieri George Mason University
Objective: This experiment tested the hypothesis that exercise would improve executive function. Design: Sedentary, overweight 7- to 11-year-old children (N 171, 56% girls, 61% Black, M SD age 9.3 1.0 years, body mass index [BMI] 26 4.6 kg/m2, BMI z-score 2.1 0.4) were randomized to 13 1.6 weeks of an exercise program (20 or 40 min/day), or a control condition. Main Outcome Measures: Blinded, standardized psychological evaluations (Cognitive Assessment System and Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement III) assessed cognition and academic achievement. Functional MRI measured brain activity during executive function tasks. Results: Intent to treat analysis revealed dose-response benefits of exercise on executive function and mathematics achievement. Preliminary evidence of increased bilateral prefrontal cortex activity and reduced bilateral posterior parietal cortex activity attributable to exercise was also observed. Conclusion: Consistent with results obtained in older adults, a specific improvement on executive function and brain activation changes attributable to exercise were observed. The cognitive and achievement results add evidence of dose-response and extend experimental evidence into childhood. This study provides information on an educational outcome. Besides its importance for maintaining weight and reducing health risks during a childhood obesity epidemic, physical activity may prove to be a simple, important method of enhancing aspects of children’s mental functioning that are central to cognitive development. This information may persuade educators to implement vigorous physical activity.
Getting their children more active is something parents can and should do. Schools should play a major role too. It seems foolish to be getting rid of physical education requirements. The current system that emphasizes development of the athletic few doesn't make much sense, but it could easily be changed to shift its focus towards getting kids to learn about and enjoy regular exercise - to help them develop a skill that will last them a lifetime.