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

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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. 

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6 Comments

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.

Reply
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!

Reply

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If we knew everything - absolutely everything - ab If we knew everything - absolutely everything - about each other everything we do would make sense. It doesn’t mean it would be okay, but it would make sense. 
.
Too often though, when our kids do things that aren’t so ‘adorable’ we are quick to judge, either them, ourselves, or both. The truth of it all is that as much as our kids need boundaries, they (and we) need compassion and space to find clarity. If we can look at their behaviour, as wild as it might be, with curious eyes, we’re more likely to be able to give them what they need to move forward. For sure we might be furious or baffled by what they’re doing, but if we could understand everything going on for them it would make sense. 
.
All behaviour is driven by a need, and if we can look at their behaviour with curiosity (and I know how hard this can be sometimes!) we can discover the blind spots that can reveal the need. The need might be connection, attention, stillness, food, a sleep, a cuddle, space, a little power and influence (especially if they’ve been following rules all day at school) - all valid.
.
Of course we need to talk to them about how to meet the need in ways that don’t end in chaos, but the time for this will come after the storm. If the need isn’t clear, that’s okay. Preserve the connection with them as much as you can by validating what you see and letting them know you’re there. Then, ‘I know if I could understand everything that’s going on for you right now what you’re doing would make sense. Can you help me understand?’ They might not be able to explain if they are in big emotion, but ride the wave with them until the emotion eases and then talk. 
.
Our kids and teens are no different to us. We all do things that dull our shine sometimes. We don’t do these things because we’re bad, we do them most often because we’re feeling bad. When this happens, we don’t need judgement. Nope. We know when we’re being feral, just like our kids have a clue when they are. What we (and they) need is space to find calm and clarity. As their important big person, the space you create in your connection with them is the most healing, calming, insight-making space of all.♥️

If we knew everything - absolutely everything - about each other everything we do would make sense. It doesn’t mean it would be okay, but it would make sense.
.
Too often though, when our kids do things that aren’t so ‘adorable’ we are quick to judge, either them, ourselves, or both. The truth of it all is that as much as our kids need boundaries, they (and we) need compassion and space to find clarity. If we can look at their behaviour, as wild as it might be, with curious eyes, we’re more likely to be able to give them what they need to move forward. For sure we might be furious or baffled by what they’re doing, but if we could understand everything going on for them it would make sense.
.
All behaviour is driven by a need, and if we can look at their behaviour with curiosity (and I know how hard this can be sometimes!) we can discover the blind spots that can reveal the need. The need might be connection, attention, stillness, food, a sleep, a cuddle, space, a little power and influence (especially if they’ve been following rules all day at school) - all valid.
.
Of course we need to talk to them about how to meet the need in ways that don’t end in chaos, but the time for this will come after the storm. If the need isn’t clear, that’s okay. Preserve the connection with them as much as you can by validating what you see and letting them know you’re there. Then, ‘I know if I could understand everything that’s going on for you right now what you’re doing would make sense. Can you help me understand?’ They might not be able to explain if they are in big emotion, but ride the wave with them until the emotion eases and then talk.
.
Our kids and teens are no different to us. We all do things that dull our shine sometimes. We don’t do these things because we’re bad, we do them most often because we’re feeling bad. When this happens, we don’t need judgement. Nope. We know when we’re being feral, just like our kids have a clue when they are. What we (and they) need is space to find calm and clarity. As their important big person, the space you create in your connection with them is the most healing, calming, insight-making space of all.♥️
...







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