Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Keeping fit Boosts Brain Development In Children

by a contributor (Teresa Cheong from Lifebridges Communications)

Planning to enrol your preschooler for another enrichment class? Think again. Research by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign shows that the key to smarter kids and faster brain development in children is more physical movement and exercise, not more sedentary activities.

Psychologists at the university did a study on 49 nine and 10-year old children and discovered that not only did fitter kids do much better in cognitive and memory tests, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) results also show that fitter children have larger brain structures than less fit children. 

Kids being active and sporty! 
Image from

Physical activity linked to larger brain development in children

The MRI images show that fitter children have significantly larger basal ganglia – an area deep in the forebrain that keeps us attentive, coordinates our movements and thoughts, and maintains our working memory. A good working memory is crucial to a child’s learning, reasoning and language comprehension.

In another study by the same university, researchers found that fitter children not only did much better in memory and information integration tests than less fit children, they have a bigger hippocampus – a part of the forebrain responsible for learning and memory. A more developed hippocampus and basal ganglia are needed for more efficient complex thinking such as solving mathematical problems.

As the child’s brain would have reached 90% of its adult size by age 6, these fitter kids are likely to be physically active before entering school.

Exercise triggers brain’s nerve cells to multiply

According to DrJohn Ratey, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, brains of physically active children have more neural connections due to higher levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF.

BDNF is why brain’s nerve cells multiply and make new connections, enabling the child to acquire new learning and knowledge. It also spurs cellular growth (neurogenesis) in early brain development in children.

Dr John Ratey (top) and his book 
"Spark" (above). Both pictures are taken 
from his website

With so much research supporting the direct link between physical movement and brain development in children, are Singapore parents neglecting a most fundamental aspect of growth by focusing too much on academic-based enrichment classes for their preschoolers?

What you can do to promote faster brain development in 

1) Peel your child away from the iPad, video and computer game consoles!

2) Get your child to be more physically active: it will naturally boost your child’s capacity to focus, learn and store information. How exercise benefits your child

3) Lay the foundation early for good physical fitness.

4) Enrol your child in an established multi-sport and exercise programme designed to help preschool children develop fundamental movement skills before they enter school. Sign up for a trial lesson at Ready Steady Go Kids to find out more!


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