Studies suggest that children who are physically active also perform better on exams and tend to experience fewer behavioral problems. A study published in Developmental Neuroscience (2010; 32 [3], 249–56) suggests that exercise also has a positive effect on brain structure. More specifically, cardiovascular fitness is positively associated with structure and function of the basal ganglia, a group of structures involved with voluntary movement and attention.

To determine the effects of exercise on immature brain shape and function, the scientists had 9- and 10-year-old children run on a treadmill. The children were then separated into different groups based on physical capacity and were asked to perform various mental challenges. After this, specific portions of the kids’ brains were measured for volume. According to the study authors, “In children, higher aerobic fitness levels are associated with higher hippocampal volumes, superior performance on tasks of attentional and interference control, and elevated event-related brain potential indices of executive function.”