Typically, when we think of exercise we think of the physical benefits it provides. Burning calories, strengthening and toning muscles, increased cardiovascular health, building endurance, and maintaining joint flexibility are all benefits we reap from engaging in physical activity. Face it, exercise is just plain good for us, as long as we don’t overdo it. But did you know it does much more than that, especially in young children?
The effects of physical activity on a child’s development are astounding. First, there are the physical aspects. Exercise helps young bodies build strong bones and muscles as well as strengthen the heart and lungs. Regular exercise as a youngster also promotes better sleep habits and can set a path for life, reducing the risks of obesity and other health problems down the line. All of that is well and good, and pretty much well known. But here is something you might not have known.
Exercise is not only good for a child’s physical health, but it is also a significant factor in the development of a child’s brain. In the first few years of life, the brain is developing at an unbelievable rate. Neurons and trillions of synapses are being formed with everything a child sees, hears, feels and does, and the brain develops faster and better when a child’s environment is active. The brain continues to develop throughout life, but the majority of the development occurs between birth and the teen years.
The hippocampus is a specific area of the brain which is involved in emotions, memory and learning. The health of this part of the brain is a key factor in how well a person forms and maintains memories and how well they learn. This area of the brain is also responsible for spatial orientation, which is what gives us the ability to navigate using our built in sense of direction. Several studies have shown that the hippocampus increases in size when a person exercises, and this is especially true in the case of children whose brains are still developing.
What that means is simple, and extraordinary. Exercise can boost a child’s ability to create and maintain memories and improve the capability to learn. That doesn't mean children who exercise regularly become geniuses, but it has been proven that physical exercise boosts brain power, which can lead to greater academic success in the classroom and greater success in life.
Exercise doesn't have to be monotonous. If you get your child to do something fun such as riding a 3 wheel scooter, they'll enjoy it much more, and they'll beg you to do it more often.