How physical activity can boost your kid’s brainpower

The mantra of modern parenting just might be “our family’s so busy!” We get it. But, according to the 2018 ParticipACTION Report Card, Canadian kids still aren’t active enough, earning a disappointing D+ for Overall Physical Activity. Being physically active has countless, well-known benefits, from building strong muscles to improving sleep and preventing chronic disease.

But, in case we need another reason to encourage kids to be active, research shows that physically active kids also have better brain health and perform more effectively in and out of the classroom.

This doesn’t mean you have to cram more lessons or team sports into their already packed schedule to support their brain’s potential. Fitting physical activity into your kids’ routine might be easier than you think—and the argument for why they need to get moving has never been more convincing.

A boost in heart rate can boost their grades

Studies have found that when kids get a burst of physical activity before a test, their brain volume actually changes in the section committed to executive control, function and attention (the basal ganglia), leading to better test scores! 

How can you apply this to your kids’ daily life? Getting to school on foot or by bike is a great idea any day of the week. But encouraging your kids to walk or ride on test day may give them an extra edge. If active transportation isn’t an option, arm them with a skipping rope, skateboard or ball and glove —anything that will encourage them to squeeze in a quick endorphin blast before their big moment!

Of course, this shouldn’t only happen on test day. Any activity is better than none. But scientists now know that making these physical activity breaks a habit in the long term can actually trigger brain growth in kids, more specifically in the section committed to memory and learning (the hippocampus). Now, how’s that for motivation?

To think outside the box, kids need to get outside of their rooms!

So, now you know that more movement can trigger better memory and stronger test results. Still not convinced? Consider the times you’ve seen your child struggling to get over a mental hump or to come up with a good idea.

Encouraging your child to take a physical activity break boosts the odds of them having their “a-ha” moment. Being active has been shown to significantly improve creative capacity and helps to think outside the box. This applies to their artistic endeavours, but also to countless other scenarios when creativity is called upon, whether that’s coming up with a strategy to score on the soccer pitch or even navigating how to deal with friend drama. 

And who doesn’t want to foster their kids’ creative leadership and problem-solving skills? 

To be fit, is to be focused

Okay, this is one we all get. A wandering attention span can be incredibly frustrating. You can probably easily picture a stack of homework in front of your child and their bouncing knee, tapping pencil, subject-changing inquiries and sighs of frustration over the task at hand. 

When your child can’t seem to sit still and focus, consider the day they’ve had sitting on the bus or in the car, or at their desk for hours in a classroom. They’ve likely been sedentary for too long. In which case, take their lead—encourage them to take a walk or shoot some hoops. If you’ve got time, offer to join them. This will allow them to return to their homework refreshed and recharged. Research shows that active kids can stay focused on challenging tasks for longer periods of time than those who are sedentary.

So, the science is in. Equipping your kids with access to physical activity sessions throughout the day and in the long-term can lead to big changes in the actual structure of their brains. These bigger, better brains will help tap potential they never knew they had, at school and beyond  — pretty impressive, right?

Check out the 2018 ParticipACTION Report Card for more info on how more physical activity can support your child’s success in the classroom, on the field and with their friends.