Active Children Prescription for Lifelong Health

Keeping children physically active in their youth can have a lasting impact for the rest of their lives. In addition to priming them for the habit of active living throughout their lives, vigorous physical activity – even sporadic – can have long-term mental health benefits.

The Physical Benefits of Vigorous Physical Activity

Everyone knows that physical activity is good for you, but researchers from the University of Manitoba are showing exactly how. Dr. Jaqueline Hay and colleagues from both the University of Manitoba and the University of Alberta studied over 600 youth aged 9 to 17. The results showed that vigorous physical activity was consistently associated with reduced risk factors including waist circumferences, body mass index scores, and cardiorespiratory (oxygen and blood pressure) fitness. Only youth engaging in at least seven minutes (per day?) of vigorous PA showed improvement in the associated risk factors; light and moderate physical activity had little to no impact on the measured outcomes. Naturally, the benefits of vigorous physical activity were greater over longer time periods as well.

Physical Activity and Scholastic Performance

The benefits of physical activity for youth don’t stop at the waistline. A joint study by the Universities of Strathclyde and Dundee examined over 5,000 children, and discovered links between the amount of physical activity and the children’s performance in English, math and science. Youth who were active between 12 and 17 minutes improved their performance by an average of a quarter-grade, leading the researcher to speculate that children who engage in the recommended full-hour of daily vigorous physical activity have the potential to improve their school performance by an entire grade. Unfortunately, the researchers also discovered that most of the participants failed to even come close to doing the amount of daily exercise recommended. Nevertheless, the implications for improving scholastic performance through physical exercise are clear.

The Lifelong Mental Benefits of Physical Activity

And the benefits of youthful physical activity continue well into middle-age as well. According to a report in Psychological Medicine, people who exercised as little as two to three times a month starting at age 11 performed better at the age 50 than their sedentary peers on mental tests, such as remembering a series of words after five minutes or identifying letters in a scrambled sample. Those who exercised more frequently throughout their lives had even better results; men showed one-third less loss of mental functioning due to age, while women showed one-quarter less. Dr. Alex Dregan, one of the authors of the paper, theorizes that physical activity forms a mental reserve of sorts that the brain can rely on, even in the event of injury such as a stroke. Regardless of the cause, Dr. Dregan’s research provides even more evidence that a lifelong habit of physical activity is good for the brain as well as the body.

In the Media
BBC Online article

The research

Physical activity intensity and cardiometabolic risk in youth

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