Study: Fit Children Think Better

Fri, 4 Nov. 2011 - 6:22 p.m. MT
Credit: ARA Staff - American Running Association

The war on childhood obesity took on another dimension several months ago when the journal Brain Research reported the results of a study on cognition and fitness level in nine- and 10-year-olds. Researchers found that the children who were more fit tended to have a bigger hippocampus and performed better on tests of memory than less-fit peers. If results continue to replicate along these lines, the need to reduce the number of inactive children has become even more urgent. 

The study used MRI to measure the size of certain structures in the brains of 49 subjects. It is the first of its kind in that MRI has never been specifically used to examine cognitive differences in fit versus unfit children. The study was conducted at the University of Illinois Beckman Institute and brought together researchers from disciplines as diverse as psychology, kinesiology, and community health. To determine aerobic fitness, the study measured how efficiently the subjects used oxygen while running on a treadmill. The fittest of these children went on to do better at relational memory tests, which look at a subject’s ability to remember and integrate various types of information.

Next focusing on the hippocampus, a brain structure known to be important in learning and memory, the researchers determined that organ’s volume was on average 12 percent larger relative to brain size in the children with the greatest aerobic capacity. Previous studies in older adults and in animals have shown that exercise can increase the size of the hippocampus. A bigger hippocampus is associated with better performance on spatial reasoning and other cognitive tasks.

We’ve known for some time that experience, environmental factors, and socioeconomic status all impact brain development in children. And in animal studies it’s been shown that exercise can significantly increase the growth of new neurons and cell survival, enhancing memory and learning, and increasing molecules that are involved in the plasticity of the brain. The new findings offer a relatively simple way to positively influence brain development—and one that is well buttressed by those earlier animal studies and makes perfect sense. Exercise increases oxygen to the brain, and it is not surprising this is advantageous during development. While environmental and socioeconomic factors are not easy to control in childhood, getting kids exercising is a promising way within our control to ensure good brain development for everyone. And as noted in this publication before, to look at a group of 10-year-olds at recess is to realize it is also the most natural thing in the world.

 Brain Research, 2010, Vol. 1358, pp. 172-183

(RUNNING & FITNEWS®  May / June 2011 • Volume 29, Number 3)



Latest News
Luxury Cruise Fitness: It Can Be Done
Luxury Cruise Fitness: It Can Be Done

Aug 02 1:02 p.m.

Article by: Jeff Venables

Comrades Ultra - Loose and Fun = Success
Comrades Ultra - Loose and Fun = Success

Jun 04 12:26 p.m.

Article by: Rick Ganzi, M.D.

Young Milers in Anaheim CA love running
Young Milers in Anaheim CA love running

May 15 3:03 p.m.

Article by: Jeff Venables

Catch Them If You Can
Catch Them If You Can

Apr 08 7:22 p.m.

Article by: Jeff Venables

New Roles of Sports Chiropractic
New Roles of Sports Chiropractic

Feb 21 11:15 a.m.

Article by: Jeff Venables