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Kids' Brains Need Exercise

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Exercise for kids is beneficial for all the obvious reasons, but it may hold greater importance for adolescents.  Physical activity has been linked to increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor, insulin-like growth factor-1, and endothelial growth factor in adolescents (children aged 9-13 years old).  The benefits aren’t only physiological; executive and cognitive functions are strengthened by physical activity in preadolescence and adolescence.

               In a study conducted by the University of Japan, the effect of physical activity on cognition was investigated in this month’s edition of J. Clin Med.  The research team combed over previous studies conducted on executive function in children ranging from impulse control, working memory, and mental flexibility.  They focused on studies which had examined these executive cognitive functions before and after the implementation of daily physical activity programs.  The physical activity consisted of playing, running, ball games, and other aerobic activities.

The greatest effects of physical activity on cognitive function was seen in children and adolescents who had the poorest cognitive abilities at the start.  Even in the adolescents who already had high cognitive performance, increasing physical activity and spending more time playing and exercising did not decrease their cognitive or academic performance when the time came to return to the books.

With this secondary analysis into the previous studies, the research team was able to pinpoint that the other studies were focusing too generally on the children’s capabilities after the physical activity rather than before.  By focusing more on the baseline of the children’s cognitive function before and after, the researchers found that it made a dramatic difference to the children who were already functioning lower than their peers.  Especially if you have a child who has some learning or developmental concerns, exercise should be a non-negotiable part of their daily lives.

With much of the world focused on how to care for the children during juggling their academic needs and lack of social and physical activity due to the pandemic, this is another reminder of just how important it can be to make time to get the kids outside.

If getting outside isn’t an option, consider getting an at home exercise trampoline.  I’ve been looking for one for my family and myself and settled on this one.  These compact trampolines fold up and aren’t the kind you put in your backyard—they can be easily accommodated indoors or on a porch.  Just a 20 or 30-minute chunk of time can provide much needed aerobic and cardiovascular activity while strengthening balance muscles for both you and your children.  

The best part?  It doesn’t require any other equipment or having to learn how to work with an at-home machine—which, if you’ve been struggling helping your child learn the way of Zoom calls and other technology for virtual learning–will come as a welcome relief.

References

Ishihara, T.; Drollette, E.S.; Ludyga, S.; Hillman, C.H.; Kamijo, K. Baseline Cognitive Performance Moderates the Effects of Physical Activity on Executive Functions in ChildrenJ. Clin. Med. 20209, 2071.

3 COMMENTS

  1. i feel sorry for anyone who doesn't, intuitively, understand this…if not through basic education…the best of which is having a body…are we that much out of touch with the animals we are? haven't parents to be, at SOME point before, seen dogs playing?

    • Good point, Isaac. It is becoming harder and harder for people to use their intuition. Sometimes we forget how much truth there is to all the wise old sayings and practices. “Fresh air, playing, and sunshine” are some of the best remedies around for people of all ages (and dogs)–but they are also dismissed quickly for the next, new, shiny thing or cure-all. I believe that sometimes people need reminders or to understand the science behind why all those old values hold true, so they can remember we all have an inner knowing of what helps all beings thrive. It's just harder to listen to our intuition in this day and age.

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