A University of Illinois professor has found a link between physical fitness and brain development in children. Psychology professor Art Kramer and his team discovered that in children aged 9-10, those that were physically fit had a larger hippocampus than their unfit counterparts. The hippocampus is the center of emotion, memory, and autonomic nervous system in the brain.
Dr. Kramer’s team used MRI imaging to measure the relative size of specific structures in the brain. To report on physical activity level researchers measured how efficiently the children used oxygen while running on a treadmill. After these tests were administered, the children were given a test on their relational memory.
Aside from being more physically fit, the MRI data showed that the more fit children had a larger hippocampal volume (about 12% bigger relative to total brain size) than the less fit children. They also scored better on their memory tests.
“The new findings suggest that interventions to increase childhood physical activity could have an important effect on brain development”, Kramer said.
“In animal studies, exercise has been shown to specifically affect the hippocampus, significantly increasing the growth of new neurons and cell survival, enhancing memory and learning, and increasing molecules that are involved in the plasticity of the brain,” added doctoral student Laura Chaddock.
There are a lot of things you can’t control when it comes to your child’s development, but their physical fitness level surely is one thing you CAN control. You don’t have to be big and muscular to reap the benefits of regular physical activity.
“The new findings suggest that interventions to increase childhood physical activity could have an important effect on brain development. We knew that experience and environmental factors and socioeconomic status all impact brain development. If you get some lousy genes from your parents, you can’t really fix that, and it’s not easy to do something about your economic status. But here’s something that we can do something about,” Kramer said.
At a young age you can lay the groundwork for your child to be smarter and more active later in life by exposing them to physical activity.