Fit Kids Have Better Brains
Your young child will be much better able to pay attention in school if he or she is physically fit. Researchers at the University of Illinois have found that 9- and 10-year-olds who are more aerobically fit have more fibrous and compact white-matter tracts in their brains - both which are desirable qualities which are important for faster and more efficient nerve activity.
Past studies have focused on aerobic fitness and gray-matter regions important for memory and learning. This new study is among the first to explore how physical fitness can help improve white matter in children’s brains. “White matter” describes the bundles of axons that carry nerve signals from one region to another.
Postdoctoral researcher Laura Chaddock-Heyman, community health professor Charles Hillman, and psychology professor Arthur Kramer used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI, also called diffusion MRI) to look at five white-matter tracts in the brains of 24 kids. The method analyzes water diffusion into tissues. Less water diffusion means the tissue is more fibrous and compact.
The tracts analyzed play a role in attention and memory, says Chaddock-Heyman. Aerobic exercise helps improve these tracts in such a way that improves cognitive function.
"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," she said.
In addition, the team has studied older adults and found that fitness has brain benefits throughout the lifespan.
Laura Chaddock-Heyman, Charles H. Hillman, Arthur F. Kramer et al. Aerobic fitness is associated with greater white matter integrity in children.Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2014; 8 DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00584