Exercise benefits the brain and body

Exercise – it can take effort and planning but its benefits to boosting boys brain power far outweigh the sometimes complicated logistics of making it a commonplace activity in their lives.

The benefits of children and adolescents undertaking regular forms of exercise are well established. However, with one in five Australian pre-school age children overweight or obese the reality is that boys are not participating in as much regular physical activity they need on a daily and weekly basis.

Canadian research linked short 10-minute bursts of aerobic activity to increased stimulation of parts of the brain which help with problem-solving and focus. Western University researchers found the temporary added stimulation of these areas of the brain was a positive result which could spur people to commit to at least small amounts of exercise on a regular basis.

Lead author and Kinesiology Professor Matthew Heath said the study was targeted at challenging areas of the brain responsible for executive functions, such as decision making and involved testing reaction times to cognitively-demanding eye movement tasks.

“Some people can’t commit to a long-term exercise regime because of time or physical capacity… this [research] shows people can cycle or walk briskly for a short duration, even once, and find immediate benefits,” Prof. Heath said.

There was an up to 14 per cent gain in cognitive performance of study participants.

“I always tell my students before they write a test or an exam or go into an interview – or do anything that is cognitively demanding – they should get some exercise first. Our study shows the brain’s networks like it – they perform better.”

An investigative study by Spanish researchers from the University of Granada found overwhelming links between a child’s aerobic capacity, motor ability and volume of grey matter in brain regions responsible for learning and organisation.

Researchers said their study questioned whether the brains of children with better physical fitness were different from those with worse physical fitness and how this impacted academic performance.

“The answer is short and forceful: yes, physical fitness in children is linked in a direct way to important brain structure differences and such differences are reflected in the children’s academic performance.”

Study lead author Irene Esteban-Cornejo said findings suggested simple ways to boost brain power in children.

“Physical fitness is a factor that can be modified through physical exercise. Combining exercises which improve the aerobic capacity and motor ability would be an effective approach to stimulate brain development and academic performance in overweight/obese children,” Ms Esteban-Cornejo said.

The Brain Boost joint UWA/Department of Sport and Recreation study into research results from across the globe updated by Curtin University’s Centre for Sport and Recreation Research found compelling evidence showing the many and varied benefits of physical activity and fitness for children.

Researchers investigated longitudinal studies into physical activity among children and identified key benefits such as;

  • Short bouts of exercise benefit executive control/function
  • Greater vigorous physical activity out of school results in higher test scores
  • The average academic achievement of children who received extra physical education is significantly higher than children who were in a control group which did not receive extra physical education
  • Reading comprehension improves
  • Physical activity intervention leads to significant improvements in children’s math scores
  • Cognitive benefits are maintained over time

As on the sporting field – the results speak for themselves. Encouraging children to get off the couch and participate in some form of regular physical activity will positively impact their learning capacity and achievements.