Exercise & Brain Development in Elementary Children
You know that exercise is good for your child's physical health, helps her sleep well and keeps her bones and muscles healthy, but regular exercise is crucial for the health of your child's brain, as well. When your child is active, her cognitive abilities improve, according to a 2008 article published in "Educational Psychology Review." Incorporate regular exercise into your child's daily routine to reap these intellectual benefits.
Before your child is even born, his brain is undergoing rapid changes that prepare it for normal functioning after delivery. According to Jane Healy, author of "Your Child's Growing Mind," your child's brain function relies on the proper formation and function of neurons, each of which carries out a certain job 3. Both genetics and environment influence your child's brain development as he progresses through childhood. A nurturing environment rich in parental interaction and physical pursuits is more likely to encourage normal brain development compared to a neglectful environment and sedentary lifestyle, according to "Educational Psychology Review."
How Exercise Helps
Physical activity is an essential way to encourage brain function and the formation of cognitive abilities. One area of the brain, called the hippocampus, actually increases in size when a child exercises, according to a 2010 article published in "Brain Research." The hippocampus helps regulate memory formation and function, which means that exercise can not only help improve your child's overall memory, but it can boost her performance on memory-related academic tasks such as sequencing and ordering, as well 5. A 2009 article published in "Trends in Neuroscience" reports that regular exercise can improve learning capabilities, and later on in life, it can help your child stave off age-related neurodegenerative diseases, too 5. While you don't need to worry about memory loss now, regular exercise might reduce your child's risk of memory-related brain disorders later in life.
Aerobic exercise can be particularly beneficial, according to "Brain Research," so encourage your child to run, jump, skip and hop. Small children will receive the brain benefits of exercise by playing on the playground, digging in the sandbox and kicking a ball. Older children might enjoy playing on an organized sports team or taking a dance class. Children of all ages can reap the brain benefits of physical activity by swimming, hiking or walking. Children who are overweight receive the added bonus of shedding excess weight, which is also crucial to brain function, as well as overall health, according to a 2007 article published in "Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport." 2
If your child isn't active already, speak to her pediatrician before introducing drastic changes to her exercise routine. Her doctor will recommend age-appropriate exercises that have little risk of causing injury. Also, keep in mind that exercise alone isn't going to make your child remember to do her homework or call her grandma on her birthday. Instead, exercise has more far-reaching benefits that boost her brain capabilities and her academic abilities in the classroom, according to the ScienceDaily website.
- Educational Psychology Review: Exercise and Children’s Intelligence, Cognition, and Academic Achievement
- Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport: Effects of Aerobic Exercise on Overweight Children’s Cognitive Functioning
- Your Child's Growing Mind; Jane Healy
- Brain Research: A Neuroimaging Investigation of the Association Between Aerobic Fitness, Hippocampal Volume and Memory Performance in Preadolescent Children
- Trends in Neuroscience: Exercise and the Brain: Something to Chew On
- Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images