Just An Hour Per Day Of Play Can Boost Young Brains

Posted on March 19, 2015

Imagine an activity that your kids could do after school every day that would improve their brain’s ability to make better decisions and solve problems. Online cognitive drills? Special tutors? Actually, researchers at the University of Illinois have found that just an hour of fun, active play not only gets kids in better shape but significantly improves their cognitive functioning.

Plenty of previous studies have shown the link between fitness and better academic performance in the classroom but it wasn't clear if this was a cause and effect relationship or just that smarter kids stayed in shape. So, Charles Hillman Ph.D., kinesiology and community health professor at the University of Illinois, designed an ambitious project to test 221 students, aged 9 and 10, before and after a nine-month after school exercise program.

In addition to standard fitness tests, the kids also underwent baseline brain imaging as well as tests of their executive functions, a collection of skills including working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, problem solving, planning and execution. Hillman divided the students into two groups, an active group that were invited to participate in a two-hour after school exercise program and a control group that were placed on a wait list with no organized activity.

The key payoff for this study was the observed changes in cognitive ability over nine months. While the control group improved slightly, as normal growth over a school year would explain, the active group demonstrated a big jump. Specifically, their "attentional inhibition", the ability to focus on tasks in the presence of distractions, and their "cognitive flexibility" to switch between different tasks quickly.

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Category(s):Child Development

Source material from 80 Percent Mental