Cognitive Benefits to Physical Activity

Executive function is the name given to the process where a person controls his cognitive processes and is a crucial component of your child’s development. It permits and manages the planning and carrying out of goal directed activities. Various components include goal setting, the use of strategies, self-monitoring, inhibition and self-control and the purposeful allocation of attention and memory.

In order to be successful in day to day activities your child must learn to suppress behaviors that lead to immediate rewards in order to obtain a more long term and desired reward. This is called delayed gratification and is an important part of development for every preschool and school aged child. For preschoolers distraction is the typical way gratification is delayed. For the older child inhibition and cognitive awareness are the primary techniques.

Studies have found children and teens involved in strenuous daily aerobic activities have improved scores in tests of creative thinking, planning, attention, simultaneous and successive processing. The planning benefits are indicative of executive function benefits. Neuroimaging studies using functional MRI have revealed an increase in neural activity in the prefrontal brain regions in pre-teens involved in intense aerobic activity. Other studies have shown a similar gain in working memory measures which is associated with success in reading and mathematics.

In some studies the benefits have been less visible and may be associated with the benefits of short bouts of physical activity. In most studies, however, children and teens who participate in rigorous daily physical activity scored higher in achievement testing or in academic grades received.

Although the reason for the potential benefits to academic performance and cognition have not been determined, these benefits when added to the known benefits of avoiding obesity and cardiovascular disease provide added reason for pursuing an active healthy lifestyle.