As if we need more evidence that schools should bring back daily gym class.
Researchers at the University of Illinois studied 9-10 year-old children with MRIs (no radiation exposure), VO2 treadmill testing, and memory evaluations.
Their findings should spank those in the educational elite who give regular gym class only lip service.
“Dr M, you are an electrophysiologist, you took zero education classes and thus, you don’t know squat about educating children.” That may be true, but I understand science, and am on the front lines of America’a struggle with fatness, which we are decidedly losing. So let me tell you about this important experiment.
Here’s what happened. First, the kid’s fitness was quantified by treadmill exercise tests. Maximum oxygen uptake cannot be faked. Then, they had head MRIs to measure the volume of the hippocampus—a funny-sounding name for a part of the brain that is known to be important in memory and learning (and some think hyper-activity.) Finally, for the not-so-fun part: the kids underwent memory testing.
There were three important findings:
- Physically-fit kids had significantly larger hippocampal volumes.
- More physically-fit kids had stronger relational memory skills. In other words, they learned better.
- Importantly, on statistical analysis the link between physical fitness and better memory revealed that hippocampal volume was the key element.
These findings are both believable, and important from a public health standpoint.
It has been previously shown in animal studies that aerobic exercise increases cell proliferation in the hippocampus. And in elderly humans, recent evidence suggests aerobic fitness is associated with larger hippocampal volume and superior memory performance. And now we have real data in children. The researchers give us the following conclusion: “The(se) findings are the first to indicate that aerobic fitness may relate to the structure and function of the preadolescent human brain.”
As a cyclist who witnesses the sadness of genetic limitations all the time, I found this quote from the senior author very intriguing (emphasis mine),
The study suggests that taking steps to increase childhood physical activity could have a significant effect on brain development, Kramer said.
“We knew that experience and environmental factors and socioeconomic status all impact brain development,” he said.
“If you get some lousy genes from your parents, you can’t really fix that, and it’s not easy to do something about your economic status. But here’s something that we can do something about,” Kramer said.
Taking on fatness will require the collaboration of many facets of society. Educators will have a prominent role. Hopefully, studies like this one will help debunk the common myth that there isn’t time for regular gym class.
“Kids, we have gym everyday; it will make us smarter.”