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.