Hey kids, here’s a good reason to work up a sweat: when young people exercise for an hour each day it also helps boost their brain power. That’s according to a study of more than 200 kids in the journal Pediatrics. [Charles H. Hillman et al: Effects of the FITKids Randomized Controlled Trial on Executive Control and Brain Function]
Seven, eight and nine year-olds were randomly selected to enroll in an after-school exercise program or be placed on a wait list. The exercisers performed much better on intellectual tests. And there was a dosage effect: kids who spent more time in the program performed even better than kids who were enrolled in the program but had spotty attendance.
Government guidelines already recommend that everyone aged 6 to 17 engage in an hour or more of moderate– and vigorous-intensity physical activity daily, but many kids still do not meet this threshold. Better cognitive capabilities could be a selling point for more exercise.
The study could not tease apart how much increased physical fitness versus social interactions in the exercise program may have contributed to better accuracy on cognitive tasks. But other work has suggested that exercise is better for cognition than social interactions alone. Regardless, a workout that offers both is a win-win.
—Dina Fine Maron