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When Kids Exercise It Helps Them Think

by Sarah on September 2, 2011

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It breaks my heart . . .

Riding on the tail of the growing childhood obesity epidemic is another – just as destructive – threat to our children’s well being.

Our children are losing their ability to think and learn.

A big part of this worrisome trend I’ll place squarely at the feet of electronics. I’ve delved into this a bit in my article on Thinking 101 and I’ll be doing more on this in the future.

But the big problem – in many ways linked to the screen-addiction – is the lack of exercise and movement.

As I’ve said many times, we’re built for action.  We stay healthier when we exercise.

But now we’re learning that exercise means more than just a trim figure – it is essential for a sharp mind.

A growing body of research demonstrates that in addition to keeping you in shape physically, moving your body also keeps you in shape mentally.

And much of this research focuses on how exercise can help children in the classroom. A team of researchers at the Medical College of Georgia have been doing some terrific research showing how important exercise is for your children.

And I thought I’d pass it along . . .

When Kids Exercise It Helps Them Learn And Think

Dr. Catherine Davis, a clinical health psychologist, and her team worked with 171 overweight 7- to 11-year-olds for 3 months.  Every day after school they spent 40 minutes exercising after school

The research team measured the results using testing and found that intelligence scores increased an average of 3.8 points for the children who exercised 40 minutes a day.

But even more specifically, the children saw significant improvements in their math skills. And this is without any additional math classes.

MRI’s showed that the children who exercised had increased activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain – an area associated with complex thinking, decision-making and correct social behavior.

The folks in Georgia aren’t the only ones studying this . . .

My daughter used our family for a similar experiment for a science project. She had us exercise on specific days. After each round of exercise we took a math quiz and memorized a random list of numbers which we had to recite after an interim of a few minutes. For comparison’s sake, she also had us do the same tasks on days we didn’t exercise beforehand.

While she found a slight increase in performance, the difference was not significant. And this fits neatly with what other researchers in the exercise-brain power arena have been finding: The big gains are over time and from habitual exercise.

In other words, one bout of exercise may wake you up to do a math problem. But the real brain-building will come in making it a routine thing.

The takeaway here?

With school back in session our children need exercise more than ever.  And they need it regularly for the best results.

So even though your schedule has gotten a little more hectic . . . there’s dinner to cook . . . homework to help on . . . and more . . .

Make sure you squeeze some activity in.

Maybe it’s my old standby – a dance jam to some favorite tunes for 15 minutes.

Maybe you go on a family bike ride after dinner or play a little soccer.

But give your children the mental boost they need to succeed.

Make sure your kids exercise.

What are your thoughts on this? Have you seen the same patterns? Have you come up with creative solutions that have made noticeable differences? Please share in the comments.

You also might want to check out this other stellar resource for brain health that works for the whole family.


By Davis, Catherine L.; Tomporowski, Phillip D.; McDowell, Jennifer E.; Austin, Benjamin P.; Miller, Patricia H.; Yanasak, Nathan E.; Allison, Jerry D.; Naglieri, Jack A. Exercise improves executive function and achievement and alters brain activation in overweight children: A randomized, controlled trial.. Health Psychology, Vol 30(1), Jan 2011, 91-98

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Sarah Clachar draws on her background in biology and health education to help parents and kids exercise more and stay healthy together as a family. To create your own customized family fitness plan for free, go to

  • Pingback: The Ultimate Guide To Better Brain Health

  • Love Quotes

    Yes I agree exercise increase the circulation of blood and the heart beats by this way heart pumps the blood strongly to brain and helps to flourish it.  The fast circulation of blood to brain urge children to think smartly.

  • Pingback: For Stress Relief, Exercise Rules

  • Alexa

    Really enjoyed reading that, you made some really good points. The fast circulation of blood to brain urge children to think smartly.

  • Sarah

     Alexa, you bet. More blood to the brain – more nutrients – better performance.

  • kaitlyn

    Nice blog. Have just bookmarked this page so I
    don’t miss any more of these.I would never have normally come here to read the
    blogs but I’m really glad I did. Will definitely 

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