Fit for Life
Brain Benefits of FitnessREAD MORE
Why do fit kids do better academically? The answer may lie in the connection between exercise, a nerve-growth chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and a part of the brain called the hippocampus. The hippocampus is an S-shaped area of the cerebral cortex that plays an important part in spatial reasoning, learning, and memory.
It’s known that exercise stimulates the brain to release higher levels of nerve-growth chemicals including BDNF. BDNF causes nerve cells in the hippocampus to multiply. It’s been shown that exercise increases the size of the hippocampus in adults. Does the same hold true for kids?
One group of researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of kids’ brains to try and find out. The researchers compared the hippocampus in both fit and out-of-shape kids and found that physically active, fit kids did have bigger hippocampal regions than out-of-shape kids. Not surprisingly, the fit kids also scored better on memory tests. LESS
Exercise in the ClassroomThe connection between physical activity and mental sharpness can be very direct. In his book Spark, Dr. John Ratey notes that the brain seems to work more efficiently right after exercise, even exercise of only moderate intensity.
Some schools are putting this observation to work by having their students take short movement breaks of 10 minutes or so throughout the school day. According to Ratey, the brief breaks actually activate the students’ brains differently than if they were sitting down. READ MORE
One school district in Chicago, Napierville School District 203, has had spectacular results with its daily exercise program. Although its per-student budget is much less than that of some other schools, the district consistently scores among the state’s top ten schools. And Napierville Central High School scored first place in science and sixth in mathematics in an international test that’s usually won by Asian countries. LESS
Become an Activity ActivistIf your child isn’t physically active enough, think about the environment he or she is growing up in. Are there parks and ballfields in your community—places to run, bike, play games, and skate? If not, consider organizing with other parents to create such spaces, or to make existing spaces safe for young people to use. Community coalitions can be very effective when they collaborate with government to open up public spaces for the good of all. READ MORE
Consider, too, talking to your child’s school about starting a daily exercise program, either before school or throughout the school day. It’s a new concept in most schools, but one that is paying off handsomely in schools that have given it a try. LESS
Photo credit of girl using computer
Copyright 2010 woodleywonderworks
Photo credit of boys playing football
Copyright 2006 Tommy Wong