Weight and Fitness Contribute to Children’s Cognition

Posted 12/21/2015 | By HealthCorps

A question that has never been asked by researchers is whether “just fitness” can influence a child’s cognition. A new study suggests that weight and physical activity both matter when it comes to cognition.

The study

The study published in the journal Pediatric Exercise Science looked at 45 normal-weight children, age seven to eleven. About half the children were active and the other half sedentary. Active was defined as participating in organized sports like swimming, gymnastics, soccer or dance for about an hour or more weekly. Children self-reported their activity levels and researchers confirmed the information with an adult in their lives.

A second group of 45 children, the same age, were also observed. These children were inactive and overweight. Socioeconomically, educationally and from the perspective of the marital status of the parents, this group was otherwise similar to the normal-weight groups. The normal-weight groups had BMIs at or below 24, and had less body fat and lower resting heart rates, compared to the overweight group.

The findings

When the normal-weight children (both groups) were compared to the overweight children, they had an expected and clear cognitive testing edge, since other studies identified excess fat as a risk factor for lower cognition. What surprised the researchers were the better score results that the normal-weight active children had, compared to the normal-weight sedentary children. Researchers were not able to identify specifically how the activity impacted cognition. Researchers have suspected that excess weight may impact cognition due to the process of inflammation, shift in hormones that excess weight can cause, or both.

A later study comparing an after-school exercise program to an after-school sedentary (just education, art and music) program, showed better brain development in the exercise group.

The message for parents

The study helped to prove that having a level of physical activity is an independent factor when it comes to children’s cognitive abilities. Being overweight and being sedentary are now identified as independent risk factors for less optimal cognition in children. It’s important for parents to realize that even if their child is lean or normal-weight, they still need fitness activities on a regular basis to support cognition.

Not being active may offer a cognitive disadvantage.

These findings should also encourage parents to speak to their pediatrician if their child is overweight or if there is a family history of weight issues. Intercepting excessive weight gain in a child clearly offers a number of benefits including reducing the risk of certain chronic diseases and improving supporting optimal cognition. Regular physical activity can also help with energy balance and limit obesity.

Source: Medical News Today

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