Exercise Can Make Children Smarter, Scientists Say

Children exercising with tires in Nanjing, China. Researchers claimed to see an association between "fitness-related changes" and higher test scores from the children who participated in a new study. Reuters

There may be an association between physical fitness and brain volume in children, a new study from researchers in Spain suggests.

In recent years, studies about the effects of exercise on the brain and behavior have gained a lot of attention. Research has shown that aerobic exercise can ease depression in adults and protect against it in children. This new study suggests that children's cardiovascular health may also have an impact on the structure of their brains.

The researchers recruited over 101 overweight and obese children from Granada, Spain. The children were put into two groups: one was put through an exercise program consisting of three to five 90-minute sessions per week for 20 weeks that included aerobic exercise, while the other group was not. After the exercise regimen was over, scientists examined the brains of each participant using fMRI. They said they found a significant difference in gray matter between the two groups. The differences they identified were in areas of the brain that prior literature has associated with executive function and learning.

Taking it one step further, the researchers administered an academic test to the children involved. They claimed to see an association between "fitness-related changes" and higher test scores from the children who participated.

The researchers said this suggests there is an independent association between cardiorespiratory fitness and gray-matter volume in different areas of the brain. If true, the findings point to exercise as a possible intervention against the negative effects of obesity on children's brains.

Interestingly enough, the researchers found that only aerobic exercises seemed to have this effect (students were also given other types of exercises to do).

While the researchers state that further studies need to be done to replicate their findings, and to look at what happens to these students on a longer time scale, they write that these findings could inform the way public health and education officials can work to help children excel in school.