The key may be physical fitness. A new study suggests that kids who are aerobically and physically fit may have developed better brainpower and thinking skills than kids who are not so fit. Earlier research has linked higher levels of fitness to better attention, memory and academic skills, and the study authors noted that exercise is known to increase brainpower temporarily – which is why working out before taking a test is a good idea. So far, however, they haven’t determined whether physical fitness makes kids permanently smarter. For the new study, the researchers scanned the brains of 24 nine and 10 year olds, looking for differences in white matter, which facilitates communication between brain regions. Some of the kids were fit and some weren’t. The differences suggested that the fit kids had better-connected brains, but another researcher noted that the less fit kids in the study weighed more than the fit kids, raising the question of whether obesity, not fitness, explains the difference in brainpower. The same research team is now engaged in a five-year randomized, controlled trial to see whether white matter improves over time in kids who begin and maintain a new fitness routine.
Laura Chaddock-Heyman, Arthur Kramer, Charles Hillman et al, “Aerobic fitness is associated with greater white matter integrity in children,” frontiers in Human Neuroscience, August 2014, doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00584