Physical Activity Boosts Brain Power and Academic Performance in Kids and Teens

Physical Activity Boosts Brain Power and Academic Performance in Kids and Teens

Kids were born to play and run around. A team of international researchers has found compelling reasons to make sure kids and teens have plenty of opportunities to exercise their growing bodies. Physical activity boosts brain power and gives them what they need to thrive academically.

We know that exercise is vital for growing bodies, but it’s also crucial for growing brains. According to the experts, kids need plenty of opportunities to run around, even if it means they have less time in structured activities.

The 24 experts were from eight countries and came from different academic disciplines. They applied their minds to the best available research on physical activity during childhood and adolescence and they came up with some remarkable findings. The findings have been published in a consensus statement published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

‘Over the 30 years we have been researching the health and well-being of young people, we have seen the accumulation of pediatric data across physiological, psychological, environmental and social issues. This 21 point consensus statement reflects the importance of enhanced physical activity, not just in schools but sports and recreational clubs, with the family, and even for those children with long-term illness. At all levels of society, we must ensure that enhanced physical activity is put into practice.’ – Professor Craig Williams, Director of the Children’s Health and Exercise Research Centre, Sport and Health Sciences, University of Exeter.

What counts as physical activity?

Physical activity includes anything that gets kids moving. It doesn’t have to be structured sports or team activities. Ant time spent playing, running around in the park, riding a bike or walking the dog will help them flourish.

Why is physical activity so good for growing brains?

In children and adolescents aged 6-18, physical activity nutures them in the following ways:

It builds their cognitive functioning:
  • Physical activity before, during and after school will boost academic performance.
  • A single session of moderate physical activity will immediately boost brain function, cognition and academic performance.
  • Brain power and academic performance are boosted when children master fundamental movement skills.
  • Time spent in favour of physical activity, even if it means time away from lessons, will not come at the cost of good grades.
It nurtures their engagement, motivation, and psychological well-being:
  • Physical activity will boost their self-esteem;
  • Nurture relationships with peers, parents and other important adults in their lives such as teachers and coaches.
  • An environment that supports their autonomy and is caring and socially supportive will enhance their motivation, their behaviour in relation to physical activity, and their general well-being.
  • Regular and organised physical activity training helps to build important life skills (interpersonal, self-regulation) and core values (respect, social responsibility).
It supports a culture of inclusiveness.
  • Activities that are sensitive to culture and context create opportunities for social inclusion. This is important for all children, including those from different backgrounds, ethnicities, sexual orientation and physical capabilities.

What can we learn?

The researchers found that participation in physical activity is influenced by gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, skill level, disabilities and socioeconomic status.

The benefits of physical activity for growing bodies and growing brains is profound. There is an obvious need to make sure that all kids and teens have access, regardless of their demographics, skill level, and social, cultural and physical qualities. The researchers suggest that the way to make this happen is to provide environments that make this easy for all kids. This would include bike lanes, parks and playgrounds which have all been shown to nurture participation in sports and physical activity for all kids and teens.

Kids and teens have so many wonderful opportunities open to them. The temptation is to provide them with exposure to as many of these experiences as possible. This a great thing, but it is important that any structured non-physical activities don’t interfere with their need for physical activity. Their brains strengthen and grow on physical activity. Give them space and opportunity to move, and watch them thrive. 

6 Comments

Linda at The Linda Life

I suspected that children need to run and jump and pretend – play! – as well as have a sport. It’s not always easy when both parents work but it is essential. Thanks for getting the word out!

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Tunisia

Thank you so much for this article. I am hoping to share this with my husband and get him on board. I have also shared this on all of my social media outlets. Thank you for always having thought articles sent.

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During adolescence, our teens are more likely to pay attention to the positives of a situation over the negatives. This can be a great thing. The courage that comes from this will help them try new things, explore their independence, and learn the things they need to learn to be happy, healthy adults. But it can also land them in bucketloads of trouble. 

Here’s the thing. Our teens don’t want to do the wrong thing and they don’t want to go behind our backs, but they also don’t want to be controlled by us, or have any sense that we might be stifling their way towards independence. The cold truth of it all is that if they want something badly enough, and if they feel as though we are intruding or that we are making arbitrary decisions just because we can, or that we don’t get how important something is to them, they have the will, the smarts and the means to do it with or without or approval. 

So what do we do? Of course we don’t want to say ‘yes’ to everything, so our job becomes one of influence over control. To keep them as safe as we can, rather than saying ‘no’ (which they might ignore anyway) we want to engage their prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) so they can be more considered in their decision making. 

Our teens are very capable of making good decisions, but because the rational, logical, thinking prefrontal cortex won’t be fully online until their 20s (closer to 30 in boys), we need to wake it up and bring it to the decision party whenever we can. 

Do this by first softening the landing:
‘I can see how important this is for you. You really want to be with your friends. I absolutely get that.’
Then, gently bring that thinking brain to the table:
‘It sounds as though there’s so much to love in this for you. I don’t want to get in your way but I need to know you’ve thought about the risks and planned for them. What are some things that could go wrong?’
Then, we really make the prefrontal cortex kick up a gear by engaging its problem solving capacities:
‘What’s the plan if that happens.’
Remember, during adolescence we switch from managers to consultants. Assume a leadership presence, but in a way that is warm, loving, and collaborative.♥️
Big feelings and big behaviour are a call for us to come closer. They won’t always feel like that, but they are. Not ‘closer’ in an intrusive ‘I need you to stop this’ way, but closer in a ‘I’ve got you, I can handle all of you’ kind of way - no judgement, no need for you to be different - I’m just going to make space for this feeling to find its way through. 

Our kids and teens are no different to us. When we have feelings that fill us to overloaded, the last thing we need is someone telling us that it’s not the way to behave, or to calm down, or that we’re unbearable when we’re like this. Nup. What we need, and what they need, is a safe place to find our out breath, to let the energy connected to that feeling move through us and out of us so we can rest. 
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But how? First, don’t take big feelings personally. They aren’t a reflection on you, your parenting, or your child. Big feelings have wisdom contained in them about what’s needed more, or less, or what feels intolerable right now. Sometimes it might be as basic as a sleep or food. Maybe more power, influence, independence, or connection with you. Maybe there’s too much stress and it’s hitting their ceiling and ricocheting off their edges. Like all wisdom, it doesn’t always find a gentle way through. That’s okay, that will come. Our kids can’t learn to manage big feelings, or respect the wisdom embodied in those big feelings if they don’t have experience with big feelings. 
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We also need to make sure we are responding to them in the moment, not a fear or an inherited ‘should’ of our own. These are the messages we swallowed whole at some point - ‘happy kids should never get sad or angry’, ‘kids should always behave,’ ‘I should be able to protect my kids from feeling bad,’ ‘big feelings are bad feelings’, ‘bad behaviour means bad kids, which means bad parents.’ All these shoulds are feisty show ponies that assume more ‘rightness’ than they deserve. They are usually historic, and when we really examine them, they’re also irrelevant.
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Finally, try not to let the symptoms of big feelings disrupt the connection. Then, when calm comes, we will have the influence we need for the conversations that matter.
"Be patient. We don’t know what we want to do or who we want to be. That feels really bad sometimes. Just keep reminding us that it’s okay that we don’t have it all figured out yet, and maybe remind yourself sometimes too."
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 #parentingteens #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #neuronurtured #braindevelopment #adolescence  #neurodevelopment #parentingteens
Would you be more likely to take advice from someone who listened to you first, or someone who insisted they knew best and worked hard to convince you? Our teens are just like us. If we want them to consider our advice and be open to our influence, making sure they feel heard is so important. Being right doesn't count for much at all if we aren't being heard.
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Hear what they think, what they want, why they think they're right, and why it’s important to them. Sometimes we'll want to change our mind, and sometimes we'll want to stand firm. When they feel fully heard, it’s more likely that they’ll be able to trust that our decisions or advice are given fully informed and with all of their needs considered. And we all need that.
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 #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #adolescence 
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"We’re pretty sure that when you say no to something it’s because you don’t understand why it’s so important to us. Of course you’ll need to say 'no' sometimes, and if you do, let us know that you understand the importance of whatever it is we’re asking for. It will make your ‘no’ much easier to accept. We need to know that you get it. Listen to what we have to say and ask questions to understand, not to prove us wrong. We’re not trying to control you or manipulate you. Some things might not seem important to you but if we’re asking, they’re really important to us.❤️" 
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#neurodevelopment #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting

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