Kids who keep fit and active are not only faster when it comes to muscle power and agility but also have faster nerve activity in their brains too, according to a recent study. The University of Illinois and Beckman Institute research found aerobic fitness created more fibrous and compact white-matter in youngsters in the tracts in the brain that are connected to attention and memory.
The study on youngsters aged nine and ten revealed that fitness made a difference when certain white-matter tracts of the brain were looked at. Since studies on adults have revealed a link between fitness and white-matter, it could be that exercise can be beneficial to the brain at all ages.
Fitness and the brain
Previous studies have shown that there is a connection between fitness and cognitive function in youngsters, helping them improve on tasks in an academic environment. As postdoctoral researcher Laura Chaddock-Heyman highlights: "Previous studies suggest that children with higher levels of aerobic fitness show greater brain volumes in gray-matter brain regions important for memory and learning."
Fitness and the mind
Aside from the growing body of evidence that suggests that exercise actually creates a fit brain for children to excel at school, activities are great for kids' minds too. A child who does very little may join the ranks of obese children and become a target for not only bullying but low self-esteem issues; not to mention being set up for life with a weight problem. A lethargic body can create a sluggish mind. Getting kids to run around and work up a sweat is not about burning off excess energy per se but also about creating a healthy mind too.
The benefits of exercise for kids' minds and their overall quality of life include:
- Confidence: Getting involved in activities and achieving results can really make youngsters feel on top of the world.
- Self-esteem: When youngsters are involved in an activity or sport that they enjoy this can really make them feel great about themselves and boost their sense of self-worth. Many sports teach the importance of respect and of being part of a team.
- Positive mental attitude to challenges: With many activities there is an element of either competition or obstacles, or both. Children who see a challenge ahead and surpass this learn that what's needed is a positive strategy. The more any of us face a potential problem head-on and succeed in overcoming it, the more we learn how to deal with challenge effectively and positively.
- Better communication: Fun activities engage youngsters and get them talking to each other. This can be a great way to encourage shy or withdrawn young people to come out of their shells and express themselves.
- Improved empathy and relationships: Teamwork and a sense of camaraderie can help young people understand and relate to others more easily. This can have a wonderfully positive impact on relationships for kids as they grow and develop.
- Understanding of balance: A child who knows and experiences the reality of a balanced life is more likely to carry this through into adulthood. Children who are not encouraged to be active often don't realize that they are being set up to lead an unbalanced life that is going to have some kind of detrimental effect on them at some point in the future.
- Connection with themselves as a whole person: Activities teach young people skills as well as making them aware of their bodies and creating a healthy mind-body connection. The more we are all aware of our physicality and how what we do impacts that, the more we can do to look after our bodies and our minds in a healthy way.
As with all kids, they learn by example, so why not be a healthy role model for young people, so that they can improve their fitness too for a healthy body, mind and brain!