How exercise helps kids think
Exercise makes us feel good. But did you know it has an impact on your children’s cognitive performance, especially if they keep exercising over their lifetime?
Research shows that exercise:
- Promotes healthy sleep: Exercise is vital for good sleep, which in turn improves brain function. A 2013 study by the US National Sleep Foundation found that light, moderate and vigorous exercisers reported having a good night's sleep almost every night compared to non-exercisers (67% versus 39%).
- Helps children cope with stress: Excessive long-term mental stress has a damaging effect on cognitive performance. Researchers from the University of Helsinki, Finland, say in a study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism that regular exercise is essential to help children cope with stress. The study found that sedentary children exposed to stressful events produced more of the stress hormone cortisol than youngsters who were very active. Lead study author Silia Martikinen believes the findings suggest “physical activity plays a role in mental health by buffering children from the effects of daily stressors, such as public speaking”.
- Improves maths ability: Apart from its cardiovascular benefits, regular exercise can help children do better in maths according to a 2011 study published in Health Psychology. Study author Dr Catherine Davis, clinical health psychologist at Georgia Health Sciences University’s Prevention Institute, says those who exercised “experienced increased brain activity in the prefrontal cortex - an area associated with complex thinking, decision making and correct social behaviour – and decreased activity in an area of the brain that sits behind it”. She comments that cognitive improvements likely resulted from the brain stimulation that came from movement rather than resulting cardiovascular improvements, such as increased blood and oxygen supplies. The researchers theorise that vigorous physical activity (raising heart rates to 79% of maximum) promotes development of brain systems that trigger cognition and behaviour.
- Enhances early academic achievement: A 2014 study by researchers from the University of Eastern Finland found that reading and arithmetic skills were best in boys who had high levels of physical activity during the first three years of school. They say being active (activities during recess and cycling or walking to school) may be crucial to early academic achievement when children first start school.
Make exercise part of your children’s daily routine – they’ll thank you in years to come.