Evidence is mounting that fit kids perform better than their unfit peers on a variety of learning tasks.

In a study conducted recently at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, researchers evaluated children as they performed reading and language comprehension exercises while wearing electrode caps. Fitness levels varied among the children, and these devices allowed the scientists to evaluate brain activity.

“Children who are physically fit have faster and more robust neuro-electrical brain responses during reading than their less-fit peers,” the researchers concluded.

Study author Charles Hillman, PhD, professor in the department of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, said in a university news release, “Our study shows that the brain function of higher fit kids is different, in the sense that they appear to be able to better allocate resources in the brain towards aspects of cognition that support reading comprehension.” He added, “Now, whether that difference is caused by fitness or maybe some third variable that affects both fitness and language processing, we don’t know yet.”

More research is recommended to determine the underlying mechanisms for the links between fitness and healthy brain function.

The study appeared in Brain and Cognition (2014; 87, 140-52).


Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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