Higher Grades For Fit Kids
By Aris Akavan, ACE CPT, BS MIS
According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity has become one of the most expensive health problems in US today, surpassing smoking. Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years with nearly 1 in 3 US children overweight or obese. Approximately 17% of children and youth 2-19 years old are obese, with higher numbers in African-American and Hispanic communities. Obesity in children can lead to diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and even slower brain development.
Reasons for Obesity
How did we get to the point that by high school 64% of kids are no longer physically active? Kids used to walk to and from school, attend gym class and play outdoors after school. Portion sizes were smaller with lots of home cooked meals, less snacking and little fast food. And they did not spend an average of 7.5 hours a day with TV, computer, video game, cell phone and movies like today’s kids 8-18. These lifestyle changes and the fact that the US fast food industry spends approximately 1.6 billion per year on marketing aimed at children, have lead to the increase in child obesity.
Obesity and Brain Size
Two studies by the researchers at the Department of Psychology and Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, determined how physical fitness affects children’s brain shape and function.
In the first study the fitness level of nine and ten years old was determined on a treadmill. They then compared, using computer-based cognitive challenges, the attention span and ability to filter out unnecessary information the highest and lowest fit kids. Just like other studies, the results proved that fitter kids performed better. MRI of the fitter kids’ brains showed significantly larger basal ganglia, a part of the brain linked to attention and the ability to coordinate actions and thoughts. Being physically fit enlarged this part of the brain.
The second study, with many of the same researchers, used another group of nine and ten years old to test the hippocampus, the area of the brain for complex memory, and its relationship to fitness. Again, the brain scans revealed that the fittest kids had larger hippocampi. Exercise appears to increase the size of these regions and to strengthen the connection between them. This goes along with previous studies suggesting that even a 20 minutes’ walk prior to an exam can raise kids test scores.
Parents as Role Models
Children look at parents for example so set a good example for your kids by spending less time in front of the television and more as an active family. See who can do more push-ups and pull-ups. When they play on the jungle gym and monkey bars, bring your jump rope along. Introduce them to exercise that are fun, such as biking, and encourage their interest in other sports and activities. Remember that small changes make a big difference: drink one less can of soda a day and you remove 10 teaspoons of table sugar, how much is in a can. Eat meals as a family and don’t skip breakfast. Watch portion sizes and include fruits and vegetables at every meal. Parents need to set the example because healthy children will be healthy adult.
You can reduce childhood obesity and its related health problems while increasing your child brain power by encouraging your children to get an hour of physical activity per day, limiting screen time, helping them find activities they will enjoy and promoting a healthier diet. Join our first lady, Michelle Obama, to raise a healthier generation of kids with her Let’s Move! campaign.
About the Author
Aris Akavan, ACE certified Personal Trainer & Lifestyle and Weight Management Coach, is owner of Body Fitness by Aris. Her mission is to assist others in leading a healthier lifestyle by balancing exercise and proper eating habits to achieve the ultimate body & mind wellness. Aris leads by example as she practices what she preaches. She leads an alcohol free and smoke free lifestyle and has worked out while following proper nutrition practices for over 10 years. In the last few years she also started participating in 5k races, adventure runs and triathlons. You can visit Aris at any of her following:
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