Thursday, 4 November 2010

Fit body, fit mind

We all know that children should be encouraged to exercise regularly to help combat rising rates of childhood obesity. An article in The New York Times provides another reason. Studies have shown that fitter children who do regular aerobic exercise perform better in tests. Scans on the children's brains revealed that the exercise had led to a growth in the part of the brain responsible for helping us hold our attention and coordinate succinct actions and thoughts.

A second separate study examined the part of the brain associated with 'complex memory' and again, the exercise the children performed resulted in this bit of the brain being larger. The article mentions another couple of studies that support the theory that a child's fitness correlates to their performance in mental exercises. It concludes by saying that we need to get our children moving and preferably not just in front of a screen with their Nintendo Wii:
A still-unpublished study from his lab compared the cognitive impact in young people of 20 minutes of running on a treadmill with 20 minutes of playing sports-style video games at a similar intensity. Running improved test scores immediately afterward. Playing video games did not.

The children who participated in the two main studies discussed in the article were ages 9 and 10. At that stage when they are busy with school, exercise probably needs to be in the form of walking/cycling to school and/or  playing in after-school / weekend sports clubs and teams. As parents, we need to instill early on a habit, enjoyment and desire for exercise to make it easier and more natural for our children to want to continue exercising regularly and staying fit and healthy.

Exercising as a family is a great way to make it an enjoyable activity and part of a regular routine. Going for vigorous walks,  swimming, playing football in the park or other ball games are all good ways to exercise together and have fun at the same time. As your child gets older and maybe develops an interest in a particular sport or physical activity, encourage them to practise and improve their abilities by joining a class where they can exercise with other children their same age.

How much exercise do you do as a family? What are the main forms of exercise your children do regularly?


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  1. Agreed -- so important to make exercise a regular routine for families. We walk to school and back everyday. We generally walk when we can and my 4 year old either walks beside me or rides her scooter.

    When daddy's home we like to go for Sunday evening walks.

    I like just letting them run outside too--taking them to Hampstead Heath where they have plenty of space!

  2. Really interesting study - thanks for sharing :)

    Exercise-wise we do all sorts - walks, playing various games in the park, assault course is great fun in the garden... and sometimes indoors when the weather's miserable - like you, I think it's so important.


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