The impact of exercise on the brain

Exercise is essential to maintain physical health, reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes. But did you know that it has a positive impact on the brain? We’re not talking about the ‘runner’s high’ or the calm you attain from yoga, both of which have positive benefits on our mental health. Instead, there is significant research to support the theory that physical exercise actually promotes brain development, particularly in children.

How does exercise impact brain development?

Boosting Memory

Exercise helps memory and thinking through both direct and indirect means. Exercise reduces insulin resistance and inflammation, stimulates the release of chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells and the growth of new blood vessels in the brain.

Indirectly, exercise improves mood and sleep, and reduces stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas frequently contribute to cognitive impairment.

Many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t.

The Hippocampus is the part of the brain that deals with learning and memory systems. Research (Erikson, Pravash et.al.) shows that fitter children have larger hippocampii and performed better at memory tasks set by the researchers.
Research with adults, (Thomas, Denn’s, Rowling and Stagg) showed that as little as six weeks of exercise could make a difference to memory function, with the improvement returning to the base level once exercise was stopped.
Improved Attention

In Holland, research had students participate in 20-minute bouts of aerobics-style exercise in between classes. The results highlighted an improvement in their attention span.

A large randomised controlled trial in the US looked at the effects of daily after-school sports classes over a school year. Obviously, the children got fitter, but in addition, their executive control improved. They became better at ignoring distractions, multitasking, and holding and manipulating information.

The impact on attention was shown with just 10 minutes of coordination skills, per day, like bouncing two balls at the same time.

Enhances Creativity

A Stanford study found that walking increased creative inspiration by an average of 60% versus sitting. The effect was evident while and shortly after walking anywhere between five and 16 minutes. The enhancement was specific to a flavour of creativity called ‘divergent thinking’, defined as a thought process used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.

These findings all lead to the conclusion that achieving well academically isn’t just about hitting the books. Instead hitting the road for a run, or participating in a team sport will improve your child’s brain capacity! Kilvington now offers a range of after-school sport training:

Day/Time Year Level Activity
Monday 3.30pm 10-12 tennis/soccer/volleyball
Tuesday 7am ALL WELCOME Kelpies running club
Wednesday 3.30pm 2-6 Sport clubs (netball, basketball, softball)
Wednesday 3.30pm 5 and 6 Balaclava Sport Training
Thursday 3.30pm Year 7 EISM Junior
References:
Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory.
Erickson KI1, Voss MW, Prakash RS, Basak C, Szabo A, Chaddock L, Kim JS, Heo S, Alves H, White SM, Wojcicki TR, Mailey E, Vieira VJ, Martin SA, Pence BD, Woods JA, McAuley E, Kramer AF.
Effects of one versus two bouts of moderate intensity physical activity on selective attention during a school morning in Dutch primary schoolchildren: A randomized controlled trial.
Altenburg TM, Chinapaw MJ, Singh AS.