Keep kids moving

Published 7:29 pm Friday, August 5, 2016

The beneficial effects of physical activity on our bodies are well documented, however the effect of aerobic physical activity on cognition and psychosocial function has only been hinted at, not directly established. In April 2013, a meta-analysis (a compilation of data from multiple, similar studies) was conducted on the effects of aerobic physical activity on cognitive and behavioral function.

Eight studies were identified which measured the effects of acute aerobic activity on cognitive performance. All studies demonstrated positive effects on psychosocial function and cognition. Absent in the findings, probably obviously, were negative impacts on cognition and psychosocial health. Furthermore, evidence concludes that aerobic-based physical activity generates new neural pathways within the brain; such as increasing nerve tissue, efficiency of blood vessels and the overall information-processing portion of the brain.

In children, a positive relationship between aerobic fitness, information processing and memory has been found. Improved fitness, cognition, academic achievement and psychosocial function have been established as a result of adaptive plasticity due to physiologic changes within the brain resulting from aerobic physical activity.

The studies chosen included participants aged 19 years and younger due to comparable periods of activity time versus scholastic time. Only randomized controlled trials were included to minimize biases between intervention and control groups to support the casual role of the intervention. Outcomes were concluded if they involved a measure of mental health, behavior, discipline or cognition. Final results of the study were heterogeneous in specificity; however all studies concluded that aerobic physical activity has a positive effect on brain function, memory, cognition and the brains ability to adapt quickly. As stated earlier, there was no conclusion of any negative outcome of exercise. All studies about exercise point to the fact that physical activity generates positive effects on both the body, and the mind.

The benefits of exercise are many and varied. However, the fact that our children and teenagers can obtain significant cognitive benefit from activity is new. Who doesn’t want smart children?! Let this be the impetus to keep your kids moving. Build activity into the lives of your family and limit the amount of “screen time.” Encourage participation in organized sports when possible and encourage outdoor activities such as biking, hiking or skateboarding. Become a role model for your kids by developing a regular exercise habit yourself. And remember, enlist the help of an exercise professional if you need one, they may have a few tricks up their sleeves to get your young one moving when you can’t!

Russ Sohooli, CES, is an exercise physiologist on staff at the Vidant Wellness Center–Washington and can be reached at 252-975-4236.