Most of us parents are familiar with the old “This is Your Brain, This is Your Brain on Drugs” campaign, but if you think that was scary, you should see what your brain looks like when you don’t do enough physical activity.
Talk about frying your mind! An article in The Atlantic details a study done on kids who were in a regular physical activity program versus kids who weren’t, and depicted the results by comparing images of their brains. These images powerfully show how much more brain activity was stimulated in the former group. Specifically, the active group had better ability to resist distraction, maintain focus, switch between tasks, and had stronger memory control.
The disparity between the two images is shocking, and demonstrates “a causal effect of a physical program on executive control, and provides support for physical activity for improving childhood cognition and brain health.”
The article also mentions another study of kids with ADHD, noting that even a short 12-week program greatly improved their math and reading test scores, an aspect of executive functioning ADHD kids typically have difficulty handling. And, the Atlantic piece noted, “a similar study in the Journal of Attention Disorders found that just 26 minutes of daily physical activity for eight weeks significantly allayed ADHD symptoms in grade-school kids”.
Wow, right? The take-away of all these studies is pretty simple, parents are always looking for that elusive thing, a trick, a tip, a program, that will keep their kids motivated, energized, and engaged. Well, I’m no Glinda but it doesn’t take a magic fairy to figure out that physical activity is the key.
I’m no scientist either, but I do have a test subject in my daughter. On the days that time permits us to play after school and then walk home, she is better behaved, more focused, and because we’ve both had a great day, I don’t need to self-medicate, with bad reality TV shows, after she goes to bed. If we don’t get that extra physical time in, she is sulky, challenging, and don’t get me started on getting her to sleep; all the wine and chocolate in the world won’t help me unwind after the hell that is putting her to bed.
Weekends when we don’t need to walk as much can also be difficult, but once I figured out that its moving that gets her groove back, well, we dance, climb, run … whatever. Sometimes it’s cold, sometimes we’re tired, but it works, so we do it.
This is as close to a parenting miracle as we get, and if it works for my child, it will (probably) work for yours. And doing it together? That works for the whole family. Now if only there was something I could do to get her to sleep past 6 a.m.