New research is looking into how aerobic exercise impacts the brains of the young. Memory and attention, key factors in academic success, are under particular scrutiny.
A study conducted by researchers from the University of Illinois has found that aerobically-fit children have white brain matter that is more compact and fibrous than their less fit peers. White brain matter consists of bundles of axons that relay nerve signals from different regions of the brain. Compact white matter has been linked to more efficient and faster nerve activity and consequentially, better attention and memory.
The study focused on 24 participants, aged 9-10. The participants underwent diffusion MRI imaging to look at their white matter. After it was surmised that the participants with a higher level of physical activity had more compact white matter, researchers decided to take these findings further.
Researchers are now in the second year of a five year controlled trial to test and see how the adoption of a fitness regime alters white matter over time.
Postdoctoral researcher Laura Chaddock-Heyman says of the study: “This study extends our previous work and suggests that white-matter structure may be one additional mechanism by which higher-fit children outperform their lower-fit peers on cognitive tasks and in the classroom.”