When it comes to fun and games, well you usually think that’s all it is. Fun and games. We take our children out to the park or out to recess with the idea of letting them go wild and blow off some of their energy. Which is the truth, to a certain extent.
But what some parents and teachers fail to understand is that exercising does more than meets the eye. Not only does it prevent chronic diseases and help build healthy bodies, but it also gives them a cognitive advantage.
Research has found exercise helps children learn better! Exercise strengthens both the prefrontal cortex (which is involved in executive functioning) and the hippocampus (which plays a key role in memory and learning). In this way, exercise supports our ability to think creatively, make decisions, focus and retrieve key information. Research has proved that a single workout can improve a student’s ability to focus on a task for up to two hours.
And that’s just one advantage your child could get from exercising regularly. Exercise stimulates the growth of neurons in a process called neurogenesis. In addition, it increases the neurochemical BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which acts as a fertilizer, strengthening neurons and making them less susceptible to breaking down. Physical activity also increases levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine and endorphins that support emotional well-being, motivation and response to stress. As we age, exercise has a protective effect on the brain making it less susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases and normal cognitive decline. In short, the movement will help your brain today and protect you against neurological decay in the future in the future!
According to a well known Neuroscientist, Wendy Suzuki, recess has cascading benefits for children. “It really has to do with what we know about how the brain works and how we can rejuvenate brain activity- particularly focus, attention, & mood. When you cut down recess, you are removing time that kids can run around. And when they run around, their brains are getting a bubble bath of good neurochemicals, neurotransmitters, and endorphins. These help memory and mood. A simple burst of exercise helps students focus better- to filter out what they do and do not need to pay attention to in class.”
Getting children into the habit of exercising could be a problem. But as long as you encourage physical activity in a fun and positive way the children’s involvement will eventually increase. Even one session of an activity that raises children’s heart rate is good for their brain and their education!