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Physical fitness improves cognitive function in children

A study published in the Public Library of Science shows that inactivity in children may not only lead to obesity, but decreased brain function. Fortunately, the inverse is also true. Children who get adequate exercise in the form of play are more likely to increase memory, perception, cognitive control and academic achievement. 

The study followed 48 nine- to-10-year-old children as they performed tasks. The children were required to learn the names of specific regions on a map and were tested either after or during the time in which they studied. Of the children studied, half of them were in the top 30 percent of their age group in the area of aerobic fitness. The other half were in the lowest 30 percent.

Previous studies have shown that children commit information to memory best when quizzed during the memorization process. Studying without reinforcement does not create a strong enough cognitive understanding to support the information over time. In this case, however, children who were deemed fitter scored higher when asked to recollect the map regardless of how they learned the information. The fit group recalled the map with 40 percent accuracy while the unfit group scored a 25 percent. 

Authors of the study believe the results should inform the way policy and procedure involving fitness in schools is determined. 

Another study published in The Journal of Pediatrics compared children's physical fitness, body mass index and scores on math and English standardized tests. Results showed that children with the best physical fitness scores also scored high on the standardized tests. Body size, however, did not play a contributing role. If a child was overweight but relatively fit, he had a higher score than a child who was thin, but less fit. 

Neither study focused on exercise typical during a regular recess, but rather on long-term physical fitness. Children who develop and maintain a high level of aerobic fitness will boost their learning capabilities. Researchers suggest a minimum one hour every day be devoted to physical activities.

What does this mean for parents? Go out and find some used sporting equipment and get your child on the way to an active life. Supporting gym programs in schools is vital, as it provides the best opportunities for children's physically fitness. Children spend most of their waking hours at school and it is an integral part of their lives. They can learn information as well as healthy lifestyles. 

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