How Exercise Boosts Your Child's Brainpower
The benefits of exercise for children are both well known and widespread.
By following an exercise routine, playing a sport or regularly playing outside, your child will see improvements in their sport performance, but more importantly in their mental & physical health.
There is no denying though that the past year hasn't lent itself well to our youth's activity levels and their overall heath.
Once school's closed down in March of last year, our youth's exercise decreased substantially and has continued to trend downward ever since.
Sports were cancelled and for many, the only means of exercise each day in a Physical Education Class was gone. Social distancing made it hard for children to get outside and play with one another.
Our youth activity has been at an all-time low and their screen-time has been at an all-time high.
What we know is that exercise is one of the most important pieces of our youth's overall health and well-being.
As humans, we are meant to move and move regularly. A consistent exercise and movement routine from things like sports, physical education classes, and outside play have a massive impact on our youth's physical and mental health.
So let's talk about the health benefits of exercise on our youth.
The health implications include improvements in a variety of areas like:
- Weight loss and management
- Disease prevention
- Heart protection
- Immune function
- Injury prevention
- Increase life expectancy
Exercise also has a large impact on athletic performance by improving areas like:
- Speed & agility
These improvements are well documented through countless research articles on exercise and its impact on our body.
One area that is gaining much attention over the past few years is exercise's impact on our youth's developing brains.
Yes, exercise plays a crucial role in the health and development of your child's brain, knowledge, learning, memory, stress management and happiness.
Exercise, the activity we thought mainly impacted areas like our weight and the strength of our bones, muscles, tendons and heart, has an equally or greater effect on our minds and its development and function.
This couldn't be more important right now as our youth has never been more negatively impacted by inactivity.
Today, we're covering the massive benefits exercise provides our youth's brains and how it impacts areas like their happiness, mood, stress, anxiety, learning, and memory.
This blog comes from a variety of research and the work of Harvard Medical School's Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, John J. Ratey, M.D. and his book Spark -- The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.
Let's get into the impact exercise has on your child's developing brain.
Exercise Improves Learning
Think of your child's brain like the muscles on your arms and legs. It grows and sharpens with activity and withers away with inactivity.
It is made up of branch-like neuron connections that work to communicate with each other. These connections are the basis for everything we think and do and can be strengthened and grown with exercise.
You heard that right.
Exercise, especially aerobic exercise, helps your child's developing brain grow stronger and smarter.
When you exercise, your body releases special proteins that enter your bloodstream and your brain.
To learn and retain something new like a new word or idea, your brain cells need to bind together and new brain signals are created
These proteins create an environment within your child's brain that not only makes it easier for them to learn but also makes them more eager to do so.
In fact, research has shown that only 2 weeks of exercise can increase these proteins by 35%.
Simply put, exercise makes it easier for your child to learn.
This is why some schools including America's fittest and smartest school, Naperville Central High School (finished 1st in Science in the world through standardized testing) start their school day with 30-60 minutes of rigorous exercise to prime their student's minds to learn.
Exercise Lowers Stress & Anxiety
We all deal with stress and anxiety no matter what our age.
It can be in the form of real stress like an injury or the mental stress of school, relationships, or having to speak in public.
The thing is, your child's body doesn't really know the difference and reacts the same way.
The same fight or flight response takes place even if the stress is made up in our mind.
Stress hormones like cortisol are released and the heart and respiratory rates elevate.
This is bad news for your child's brain health as chronic cortisol secretion actually erodes their ability to learn as well as their ability to recover or create new memories.
Cortisol also promotes fat storage, especially around their midsection -- another health risk.
The great news is, exercise increases our stress tolerance and turns down the stress response.
Not only does exercise relieve stress, but it significantly decreases all the negative side effects of stress like illness, tiredness, and disease.
On the other side, it increases energy, productivity and time management.
When it comes to anxiety, many researches have found exercise to be as impactful as some anxiety medications.
In fact, one study took nearly 200 high school students and split them in half.
Group 1 completed 1 day of a normal gym class per week.
Group 2 completed 3 days of rigorous exercise.
The study found that Group 2 decreased their average anxiety score by 14%, while Group 1 only decrease their score by 3%.
Exercise Improves Mood & Happiness
If you workout, you can recall how good it feels when you complete your session.
If you went into the workout stressed or unhappy, that probably changed.
The same is true for your children.
We as humans are meant to move. It's in our DNA and our bodies have physically evolved to help us do so. Our bodies have evolved so that we could hunt and travel for long distances with great endurance.
On top of that, our brains literally reward us for movement. Movement causes a flood in our brains and blood with feel good chemicals like dopamine, endorphins, and endocannabinoids.
These feel good chemicals are responsible for the "runners high" that some people report, but the best thing is, you don't need to be a runner to feel it. These chemicals are released from your brain and muscles during movement and reduce anxiety, decrease pain, boost our mood, relieve stress, and make us happier.
The more we exercise and the more consistent we become, the stronger these feelings become and the longer they last. Research shows in just 6-weeks, regular exercise and movement actually causes changes to our brain, our feel good chemicals, and the receptors for these chemicals. We build a more robust feel good system, the more we exercise. Exercise literally changes our brain and long-term happiness.
The research is very clear: physically active children live happier lives.
How much exercise?
Some research has shown as little as 5 minutes of continuous movement can spark changes in mood and anxiety.
What we recommend for our youth is starting with 30+ minutes of movement 3+ times per week with a variety of movement like outdoor playing and activities, sports, and structured workout programs like our Youth Performance Camps.
Research shows those feel good chemicals are released through social connection and community so think of that as a double dose of happiness.
In fact, research has shown higher levels of these feel good chemicals, more social connection, and exercise consistency with those who partake in group exercise vs exercising alone. Researches call it "collective joy" and it's a reason people join DSC from all fitness backgrounds and THRIVE!
At Dynamic, the amount of structured exercise really depends on their age.
Kids under the age of 8 should try to play outside 3-6x/week for 30 minutes.
As they get older, the exercise can become more structured like a program at DSC or by joining a sports team.
At Dynamic, we have found the most benefit from having our middle-school athletes train with us 2x/week for 1 hour and our high-school and college age athletes train with us 3-4x/week for 1 hour
Overall the evidence is very clear: exercise, regardless if your child is an athlete or not, should be a big part of their life.