Does Exercise Make Kids Smarter?

For years now I’ve noticed how different my sons are when they are active in the out-of-doors from when we stop cycling for a while and they gravitate toward the TV or computer screen.  When we’re cycling, they appear to be more creative, more alert, and more social.  On the other hand, when they spend more time in front of the boob tube, they tend to be moody and don’t want to talk to us or others.  Now, maybe I know why.

A study recently published by the University of Illinois showed that “fit children had significantly larger basal ganglia, a key part of the brain that aids in maintaining attention and ‘executive control,’ or the ability to coordinate actions and thoughts crisply.”  After ruling out other factors such as socioeconomic level, body mass, and other variables, “researchers concluded that being fit had enlarged that portion of their brains.”

Another study indicated that the “fittest children had heftier hippocampi.”  The hippocampus is the part of the brain associated with complex memory.

Wow – that’s powerful.

My husband and I have seen, first hand, how quickly our children learn as we travel the Americas on our bicycles – a trait we attributed mainly to their travels.  Our sons seem to absorb knowledge of their surroundings like sponges with very little effort at all.  Now, I’m thinking it’s most likely a combination of travel and physical activity that has given them such a powerful base for life.

A study in Sweden found that “better fitness was correlated with higher I.Q.’s, even among identical twins. The fitter the twin, the higher his I.Q.”  They concluded that aerobic exercise “produces specific growth factors and proteins that stimulate the brain.”

The consensus is that aerobic exercise can, indeed, make kids smarter.  I would add a tiny little bit to that based on my experience – aerobic exercise in the out-of-doors makes a huge difference in kids.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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4 Responses to Does Exercise Make Kids Smarter?

  1. Tyler Toone September 17, 2010 at 3:38 pm #

    Great post, and I especially like the reference to the studies. I think it’s great for kids to exercise because of often gets the lazy parent out to exercise with their kid. For someone me, where I am training 5 to 6 days a week for the next triathlon, bike tour, or 10k, being able to incorporate training with family helps me find a balance as a parent and endurance athlete.

  2. David November 23, 2010 at 2:14 pm #

    Wow that’s a nice piece, i am not surprised but it’s very good that there are studies etc. on this topic.
    I think the kind of food we all eat(the fuel for our bodies)do we eat a salad or french frites i feel the difference in mind,emotional and energy,&being outdoor/active in nature is the best remedie for everything a human can struggle with.

    Enjoy your trip

    warm regards


  3. David November 23, 2010 at 2:15 pm #

    This is also the reason we go for adventure now to Thailand so that our doughter can be outside in nature.




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