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Kids and Exercise (for Parents) - KidsHealth
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Does a quick bout of exercise make kids more attentive? In one recent experiment, kids who ordinarily performed poorly on attention tasks improved their accuracy when tested shortly after "moderate acute exercise" -- 20 minutes of walking on a treadmill Drollette et al Another experiment randomly assigned 56 school kids to one of three morning school sessions:. The kids who got two bouts of morning exercise performed better on a test of attention, and this was true even after the researchers adjusted for baseline differences in attention and children's involvement in sports Altenburg And what about ADHD?
When researchers tested the effects of short-term exercise on kids diagnosed with ADHD, they found that aerobic activity gave these kids a special boost, altering their brain activity in ways that might enhance self-discipline Pontifex et al These studies address immediate, short-term responses to exercise, and lend support the idea that school recess periods -- breaks for play and physical activity -- can enhance attention in the classroom. But there are also studies that address long-term benefits of exercise for children. For instance, what happens if you enroll previously sedentary kids in a program of daily physical exercise?
Another experiment replicated these results, and found that 13 weeks of aerobic exercise was also linked with improved math skills and increased activity in the bilateral prefrontal cortex, a brain region associated with executive function Davis et al Similarly, when Keita Kamijo and colleagues randomly assigned 20 youngsters aged years to an after-school exercise program, kids who got 70 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day showed improvements solving tasks that taxed executive control and working memory Kamijo et al Kids in a control group did not.
And a recent randomized study of more than school children found that kids assigned to engage in 60 minutes of daily, after-school aerobic activities performed better on tests of focus and cognitive flexibility--the ability to switch between tasks while maintaining speed and accuracy Hillman et al So we've got evidence that exercise can improve a child's ability to focus. But does that translate into better academic performance?
There is reason to think so. Physical exercise and academic achievement. Studies suggest that physical exercise yields short- and long-term benefits on achievement in the classroom. For instance, one experiment found that a 20 minute session of walking boosted children's subsequent performance on tests of reading, spelling, and arithmetic Hillman et al a. Another study found that kids who exercised minutes prior to a math test outperformed kids in sedentary control group Howie et al And the long-term?
As noted above, one randomized study found that kids showed improved mathematics skills after a week exercise program Davis et al , and other research indicates similar benefits. In an experiment performed by Daniel Ardoy and colleagues on 67 adolescents, some kids were assigned to get 4 sessions each week of high intensity PE.
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After four months, these kids performed better than other kids on tests of cognitive ability and earned higher grades at school Ardoy et al Adolescents assigned to less intense PE workouts showed no showed no cognitive improvements over kids in the control group Ardoy et al More recently, kids who were assigned a daily schedule with more physical activity breaks outperformed their control-group peers in mathematics and reading Tomporowski A safe bet Can we assume that exercise will help every child perform better in school?
Perhaps not. In some studies of aerobic exercise, the reported effects have been small or non-existent. As Caitlin Lees and Jessica Hopkins argue, we need more rigorous research to better understand what's going on. We need to learn more about the details -- including how the effects vary by intensity, frequency, and type of exercise being performed. But the results aren't "mixed" in the sense that we don't know if exercise is good or bad for the brain. Clearly, it's good for the brain. Nor are the results "mixed" in the sense that we don't know if exercise during the school day helps or hurts academics.
When researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 59 studies published over the previous 60 years, they found that physical activity has a decidedly positive effect on children's achievement and cognitive outcomes Fedewa and Ahn There is no evidence that it's detrimental, which is striking if you consider that time spent by children in recess and physical education class is time diverted from academic study. When schools have allocated more time for physical activity, they tend to see cognitive improvements. The worst case scenario is that kids become more fit and healthy, while their academic achievement levels remain the same Keely and Fox So school policies aimed cutting recess or PE -- in order to make more time for academics -- are misguided.
We've got nothing to lose by encouraging kids to exercise, and much to gain. The mouse experiments are based on voluntary wheel-running. Thus, it's important to find fun forms of aerobic exercise for children.
Be patient with them and always stick to your budget.
Structured activities--like team sports or dance lessons--are good options. But so are nature walks, tree-climbing, roller-skating, and playing hide-and-seek. In fact, play--like exercise--is good for the brain. Perhaps the most effective forms of exercise for children combine both high levels of physical activity and elements of play. Effects of one versus two bouts of moderate intensity physical activity on selective attention during a school morning in Dutch primary schoolchildren: A randomized controlled trial.
J Sci Med Sport. Scand J Med Sci Sports. The importance of physical activity and aerobic fitness for cognitive control and memory in children. Monogr Soc Res Child Dev. Colcombe, S. Fitness effects on the cognitive function of older adults: A meta-analytic study. Psychological Science, 14, Cotman, C. Exercise: a behavioral intervention to enhance brain health and plasticity. Trends in Neurosciences, 25 6 , Effects of aerobic exercise on overweight children's cognitive functioning: a randomized controlled trial.
Res Q Exerc Sport. Exercise improves executive function and achievement and alters brain activation in overweight children: A randomized, controlled trial. Health Psychol. Dietrich, A. Endurance exercise selectively impairs prefrontal-dependent cognition. Brain and Cognition, 55 3 , Acute exercise facilitates brain function and cognition in children who need it most: an ERP study of individual differences in inhibitory control capacity. Dev Cogn Neuroscience Fedewa AL and Ahn S. The effects of physical activity and physical fitness on children's achievement and cognitive outcomes: a meta-analysis.
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