Though we already know the physical benefits that exercise can provide overweight kids, researchers now think it might also improve their mental health, according to a recent Georgia Health Sciences University study.
Researchers studied 171 overweight, inactive kids between the ages of 7 and 11 and found that vigorous exercise–like running games and jumping rope–improved kids’ ability to think, plan, and do math, according to a report on the university’s web site.
MRI results showed that children who exercised experienced more brain activity in the pre-frontal cortex–the part of the brain associated with complex thinking, decision-making, and correct social behavior. And the more they exercised, the better the results: intelligence scores increased an average of 3.8 points in those who exercised 40 minutes a day for three months versus those who exercised only 20 minutes daily. Researchers believe that this sort of vigorous physical activity promotes the development of the parts of the brain that affect cognition and behavior.
With about one-third of U.S. children being overweight, researchers hope that the findings give educators the evidence they need to make physical activity in schools a daily priority, writes Dr. Catherine Davis, corresponding author on the study and clinical health psychologist at GHSU’s Georgia Prevention Institute.
“I hope these findings will help reestablish physical activity’s important place in the schools in helping kids stay physically well and mentally sharp,” Davis said. “For children to reach their potential, they need to be active.”