Summary:  A new study of 9 & 10 year olds out of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign clearly shows the positive impact of exercise on their young minds and sounds the alarm regarding the urgency of early intervention programs for at risk children.

 
 
 


You might not realize it but if your 9 year old is aerobically fit and active daily they have more fibrous and dense white-matter tracts in their brain than their less fit counterparts.

Why should you care?

The activity and fitness levels of children are at an all time low and while many news reports focus on the disease risks inherent with childhood inactivity and obesity few have focused on its impact on the brain.

 

Walking 5 Miles per Day Boosts Kid's Brain Power

White Matters. The more white-matter a child develops the greater growth in bundles of axons that are critical for carrying nerve signals from one region of the brain to the other. The more compact the white matter the faster these signals can travel. Previous studies reported here at TrekDesk Treadmill Desk have shown that inactivity and obesity are associated with smaller brain sizes in adults. Conversely, increased activity levels have been shown to increase the size of the brain matter along with capillary production which feeds further tissue growth. The same result appears to be likely among children as well and this five year study is two years along to proving this very fact.

The study conducted by Charles Hillman and Laura Chaddock-Heyman and their colleagues was recently published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

"Previous studies suggest that children with higher levels of aerobic fitness show greater brain volumes in gray-matter brain regions important for memory and learning," stated Laura Chaddock-Heyman. "Now for the first time we explored how aerobic fitness relates to white matter in children's brains."

Controlling for variables such as puberty, IQ, learning disabilities, and socio-economic status that might affect brain development the team used diffusion MRI to study the white-matter tracts of 24 children aged 9-10 and the impact of fitness levels. Diffusion MRI calculates the amount of water diffused into tissue, the less water the more fibrous and dense the brain matter.


The study uncovered significant fitness correlated differences in the white-matter tracts of several areas of the brain including the corpus callosum, the superior longitudinal fasciculus and the superior corona radiata; all of which have been shown to play a significant role in attention and memory.


"Previous studies in our lab have reported a relationship between fitness and white-matter integrity in older adults," Dr. Art Kramer, lead researcher and a leading expert in this field. "Therefore, it appears that fitness may have beneficial effects on white matter throughout the lifespan."

The study is ongoing and will track the impact of exercise over a five year period with these children. "This study extends our previous work and suggests that white-matter structure may be one additional mechanism by which higher-fit children outperform their lower-fit peers on cognitive tasks and in the classroom," Chaddock-Heyman added.

This study has important ramifications on a number of levels. It is well established that the greatest concentrations of inactivity and obesity exist in children of lower socio-economic means. Early intervention programs such as Head Start are critical then not just from a curriculum and diet based agenda but also from a fitness perspective as well.

There are hundreds of studies listed here at TrekDesk treadmill desk that warn of the dangers of inactivity and obesity and a central theme of all of them points to a common cure: increasing fitness and activity levels.


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