Exercise as it relates to Disease/The effects of exercise and sport on the cognitive function of primary school children
In order for an individual to function competently, their mind must be capable of receiving with the stimuli they receive on a daily basis and for a long period of time, it must also then analyse and respond to the stimuli in different ways. These processes are known as the brain’s cognitive functions which include:
- Perception: Recognition and interpretation of stimuli
- Attention: Sustaining concentration
- Memory: Storage of information over long and short term
- Motor: Coordinating muscular contraction
- Language: Translating sounds into speech
- Visual and Spatial Processing: Processing visual stimuli and distances between objects
- Executive Functions: A variety of decision making and problem solving processes
Whilst all able-bodied individuals are capable of completing these tasks, like most mental processes, there is reason to believe exercise is capable of enhancing the brains cognitive speed and efficiency. Whilst limited research into the effects of exercise on cognitive function has been completed, there has been research into the effects of exercise on neuronal growth in the brain. Seeing as neurons are electrically excitable cells that transmit information, it seems obvious that if exercise increases their numbers, the fitter individuals will be more capable of being smarter due to their increased cognitive function. However, in a study to exam the effectiveness of exercise on cognitive function it was revealed that whilst fitter individuals did exceed in a variety of cognitive processes including overall intelligence, exercise did not aid in increasing memory function.
Explaining the Issue
There is growing concern within health circles that due to the lowering rates of physical activity in most child populations around the world[4[, that children will not develop the same efficiencies mentally as they could if they were regularly undergoing physical activity. These deficiencies can manifest themselves in ways from a poor attention span to poor coordination. It is believed that due to their sedentary lifestyle they are become
Despite the limited research into the topic, various reviews have offered glimpses, although somewhat conflicting evidence of the effects of exercise on children’s cognitive function.
A series of 44 studies throughout 2003 by D.M. Sibley and J.L. Etnier indicated a relationship (0.32 correlation) existed between cognitive function and physical activity. More-so, they discovered that the type and intensity of exercise trained had limited effect on the results, identifying positive effects being drawn from a wide variety of physical intervention programs. Interestingly, they found the results to be stronger in young adults and children than in older adults. To further identify the most effective agent at improving cognitive function C.L. Davis performed a series of high intensity, high enjoyment sports-based activities over 20 and 40 minutes within7-11 year old children to determine what had a larger effect on the efficiency of their cognitive function. He discovered that both groups improved over the control (0 minute) group for most of the processes, however, no group improved their attention efficiency.[2, 6, 7]
Davis’ second test on 7-9 year olds revealed that children exposed to increased sessions of aerobic fitness (2 hours a day) improved their working memory when compared to those who developed their motor skill.[2, 6, 7] Further research into cognitive function is of course necessary to identify why children have such strong reaction to exercise through their cognitive function, but one of them is due to the fact that cognitive function, like all processes within the human body, manifests itself throughout an individual’s childhood. Children also tend to have a higher affinity for exercise than adults, whilst it may not be as intense as an adults program; children will tend to enjoy exercising more. Also due to the probability that they have not yet learnt the skills they are using during exercise, they will need to implement their memories and other cognitive functions to perform the tasks that they are attempting in exercise. Also, like most parts of a child, the brain is still developing; the increased use of a child’s mind incorporating all of the cognitive functions in association with exercise will strengthen the efficiency of a child’s mind due to the increased numbers of neuronal pathways as mentioned previously.
Recommendations for the future
There are a few key changes that should be observed in the best interests of children for the future. The installation of a law for the primary school curriculum to incorporate a level of exercise equal to the recommended daily physical activity guidelines, not only for their current health, but also to impose good practices for their future. An increase in the number of programs encouraging children to become involved in sport and a healthy lifestyle should also be encouraged, again this may increase the likelihood of them developing a healthy lifestyle but also increase the likelihood of parents following this trend and engaging in a healthier lifestyle. Also that exercise programs should incorporate an increased level of mental use as well, tasks such as memory and developing new motor skills can help the brain use the new neuronal pathways it has built and will only strengthen them as a result.
Further reading / information sources
1) http://sharpbrains.com/blog/2006/12/18/what-are-cognitive-abilities/ 2) Davis, C.L., Tomporowski, P.D., McDowell, J.E., Austin, B.P., Miller, P.H., Yanasak, N.E., Allison, J.D. & Naglieri, J.A. 2011, Exercise Improves Executive Function and Achievement and Alters Brain Activation in Overweight Children: A Randomized Controlled Trial, National Institute of Health, Health Psychology. 3) Diamond, A. & Lee Kathleen August 19, 2011, Interventions shown to Aid Executive Function Development in Children 4–12 Years Old, National Institute of Health, Internet. 4) Dollman, J., Norton, K. & Norton, L. 2005, Evidence for secular trends in children’s physical activity behaviour, Sports Medicine, bmj.com. 5) Hillman, C.H., Erickson, K.I. & Kramer, A.F. Be smart, exercise your heart: exercise effects on brain and cognition, Science and Society. 6) Tomporowsk, P.D., Catherine, I., Davis L., Miller, P.H. & Naglieri, J.A. 200, Exercise and Children’s Intelligence, Cognition, and Academic Achievement, Educational Psychology Review. 7) Davis CL, Tomporowski PD, Boyle CA, Waller JL, Miller PH, Naglieri JA, et al. Effects of aerobic exercise on overweight children’s cognitive functioning: A randomized controlled trial. Research. Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 2007