Physical Activity Leads to Brain Activity

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In the old days, playing outside was the best time of day for kids of all ages.   Whether it was summer time, holidays, or after school, children could not wait to get outside and run around.   In fact, our parents forced us to get out of the house, interact with your friends, and engage in some form of physical activity.  During the summer, after we ate our breakfast and did our chores, we were allowed to meet up with our pals and do whatever our imagination could dream of on any given day.  During our school year, as long as the sun was shining, and our homework was complete, we could frolic outside playing sports, riding bikes, or just hanging out on the corner.

Over the last few generations there has been a drastic change. No longer is there the security and safety of a parent being home in at least one of the neighborhood homes, as two income families is the norm not the exception.   Children under 10 years of age are routinely left in after school programs under the watchful eye of teachers and monitors.  The explosion of the internet, video games, and social media has increased the solitary and sedentary activity of the youth in America, as children would rather play video games, tweet, or connect through an I-Pad, tablet or computer.  Many children are simply following the example set by older generations who are spending more and more time glued to an electronic device. While some neighborhoods remain safe, the rise in uncertainty over the security in our communities has contributed to the lack of time spent outdoors for children.

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As this trend continues, there may be evidence that physical activity for children is not just a luxury but a necessity.   There has always been an argument that a growing child needs exercise to counteract obesity and keep control of weight gains.  This has led to an increase in enrollment in organized sports for children, but that may be limited to once or twice a week.  A new study published Monday in Pediatrics suggests that children aged 7-9 need to engage in regular physical activity not only to maintain a proper physical condition, but also to increase positive brain activity.

According to a Professor of Kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the human body is designed for movement and activity. Professor Charles Hillman and colleagues conducted a nine months study of an after school program at the University which included 109 children all aged 7-9. The research concluded that children who participated in at least 70 minutes of physical activity, not organized, but activity that normal kids would engage in outside after school with their friends, showed improvement in thinking skills and multitasking in brain oriented activities.  In certain identification drills, the children who engaged in physical activity were faster and more accurate than those children who did not participate in the physical activity program. Actual brain scans of the kids who regularly exercised showed increased brain activity. The more times a child participated in physical activity, the more changes were seen in increased brain activity.

It is important to note that the children who participated in the program were not placed on an overly stringent physical fitness program.  They took a low level of activity and increased it slightly; accruing to the study the physical activity was only increased by 6%. The study also examined the ability to focus attention and resist distraction, but the results were not as strong as the increase in the ability to think and conduct the multitasking tests.

A growing child needs to be active, and many parents are concerned about their children may become ingrained with the idea they can spend 8-10 hours a day sitting behind a desk or in front of a television or computer screen. There are definite benefits for physical fitness with activity, but this study lends credence to the arguments that an active child is better prepared to handle the tasks in the classroom as well as on the playground.


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