The benefits of exercise for adult problems such as obesity and diabetes has been a frequently researched and openly discussed in over the past decade. What hasn’t been really discussed until recently, but is just as important, is the benefits of exercise on children’s brains. According to a study published in the Society for Research in Child Development, there is a now a link to exercise and cognitive development and achievement in school. The study goes on to say that active children do better in class and on tests because exercise seems to lead to larger brain volumes in areas associated with memory and thinking functions. This includes behavior and decision-making. Active kids also appear to have better concentration and longer attention spans. A study conducted by the University of Illinois states that physical activity leads to better performance on tests and, according to studies conducted by Michigan State and the University of Vermont, daily aerobic exercise in children can lead to reduced symptoms of ADHD.
The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends 60 minutes of daily physical activity for youth ages 6-17 years. Yet, despite the amazing aftereffects of physical activity, students are still not getting enough in school. According to the CDC, physical education classes among students has been steadily declining, with only 24% of 12th-grade students attending physical education classes, down from 41% of 9th-grade students. This is an alarming number, especially considering the many benefits linked to academic function and exercise and also knowing that exercise at a young age can lead to a lifelong active lifestyle. Seeing these statistics, it is imperative that children try and get their daily physical activity at home.
For many children, reaching 60 minutes of physical activity each day may be especially hard if they aren’t involved in extracurricular activities, such as sports teams or after school programs. However, to reap the benefits that exercise provides, students do not need 60 minutes of consecutive exercise each day, the physical activity can be broken up throughout the day. The CDC reports that 20 minutes of walking affects brain functioning, helping to stimulate students’ mind and improve academic success. According to Dr. Laura Chaddock-Heyman, a research scientist specializing in movement and the brain, even short bursts of movement can deliver big benefits for brain health and academics as opposed to sitting quietly. It doesn’t take much to access the benefits of exercise on the brain. You can have your child do 5 minutes of jumping jacks, squats, jogging in place before they leave for school and again once they get home, and/or before and after dinner.
The bottom line is, children need exercise, and when they are receiving the correct amount, it will truly make a difference in many aspects of their lives.
For more health and fitness tips, visit our website or give us a call at 781-326-2900 and speak to a membership representative.
-Nick K., Exercise Physiologist at Dedham Health & Athletic Complex