How exercise impacts cognition in children. We now know that exercise has the ability to not only benefit our bodies, but also our brains. Exercise is associated with improved focus and attention, sharper short-term and long-term memory, and more efficient thinking. It seems these remarkable benefits of exercise start early. Children who are more physically active show higher standardized test scores and academic grades than their more sedentary peers.
Studies examining the specific systems that may underlie these scholastic achievements have determined that physical activity and fitness are associated with especially high gains in cognitive abilities termed executive functions. Executive functions are needed when you have to concentrate and think, when you have to ignore distractions, and when you have to utilize self-control and limit impulsivity. It is no wonder, then that children with better executive functions perform better in the classroom.
So, if exercise benefits executive functions, my research asks the question – just how early in life do these benefits begin? Preschool? Because the brain is so adaptive to the environment at young ages, it may be that the brain gains the most from an active lifestyle when we are young. If something as simple and accessible as exercise can benefit the way our brain functions, it is critical that we learn all we can about when and how this occurs.
If you are local to the Boulder, Colorado region, and have a child between the ages of 4.5 – 6 who would be interested in participating, please write to kids.exercise.brain at gmail dot com.
Participation involves wearing a pedometer for a 5-day period and two 30-minute meetings for cognitive testing. All results are made anonymous and kept confidential.