A lot of political capital and many educational dollars have been invested in keeping our childrens’ minds up to speed. The solution may be fitter bodies.
Two studies at the University of Illinois make the case. Scientists grouped 9 and 10 year old kids by their levels of aerobic fitness. In one study they evaluated the kids’ performance on cognitive attention tasks; in the other they studied complex memory tasks. They found the fittest kids were better at both. Then they used MRI scans to look at structures in their brains that might explain the differences.
Brain structures were significantly different in the two groups. The fittest kids had significantly larger basal ganglia, (a key part of the brain that aids in maintaining attention and coordinating actions and thoughts crisply) and larger hippocampi, a region associated with complex memory tasks.
According to the authors,” the hippocampus and basal ganglia regions interact in the human brain, structurally and functionally. Together they allow some of the most intricate thinking. If exercise is responsible for increasing the size of these regions and strengthening the connection between them, being fit may “enhance neurocognition” in young people.”
In plain English: fit kids have fit brains.
So, as school systems consider where to dole out the dollars, maybe PE and after school sports would be good investments.
When you’re thinking about how to help your children get ahead, be sure to supplement their studies with a heavy dose of fun activities that build endurance – like active play and sports.