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Exercise and Learning in Children

There is a strong connection between the mind and the body.  New research suggests new examples of this connection: how exercise increases a mind’s ability to absorb and retain information, especially in children.

According to the new research, regular aerobic and cardiovascular exercise increases attention span, focus, learning, and memory.  This is especially true in children because the brain’s frontal lobe grows throughout the school years, so exercise increases brain development.

What is the science behind this research?  Aerobic and cardiovascular exercise (i.e., running, swimming, doing push-ups, playground games, etc.) increases blood flow throughout the body, including the brain.  Blood delivers nourishment to the body, so increasing blood flow to the brain yields a better nourished brain.  Exercise also improves brain function by spurring the production of new brain cells and prompting the brain to produce more BDNF , a protein that encourages growth in and communication between brain cells.

Children who exercised for 20 to 40 minutes immediately prior to taking an academic examination performed better on the examination than did their counterparts who did not exercise prior to the examination.  This is true regardless of the race, gender, and socioeconomics of the children in both groups. 

Children who exercise regularly are able to maximize their benefits.  They can increase brain development through sustained activity.

As moms, we’ve intuitively known about the link between exercise and learning.  When our children are sedentary and “bored”, it seems like they don’t pay attention to the information in their environments.  They don’t seem to absorb or retain the information we try to impart to them.  They say they are “spacing off”, but we know that when they get off the sofa and become active, their ability to absorb and retain information increases markedly.  We moms may not have carried out scientific studies, but we all knew, anecdotally, what was true.

The key here is to make sure our children are physically and cognitively active.  Sure, everyone needs a little “down time”, but “down time” should be a narrow window of time . . . the exception rather than the rule.

Isn’t it nice when science confirms our beliefs?

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