With the rise of electronic media, U.S. kids are getting more “screen time” but less physical activity—a trend that may have far-reaching implications when it comes to their overall health. But adding just an hour of exercise each day can make a big difference, and not just for a healthy body but for a healthy mind.
In a study funded in part by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, researchers from the University of Illinois followed more than 220 school children between the ages of 7 and 9, half of whom were enrolled in an after-school program with a high level of physical activity while the others remained on a wait list. The 2-hour program included about 70 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity, which researchers say resulted in big “brain gains” for those enrolled.
The kids who attended the weekday program showed significant improvement in a range of cognitive skills: memory, concentration, the ability to focus and ignore distractions, and multi-tasking (being able to switch back and forth from one task to the next). These so-called “executive functions” have been linked to fewer conduct problems and less risky behavior in the adolescent and teenage years.