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Childhood Exercise ADHD and Obesity

Recent scientific findings in the arenas of child psychology and child development have led to new understanding of how certain activities and regiments can benefit young children. Some of the latest research is being used to formulate programs that can help parents, teachers, pediatricians and nannies care for youngsters in ways that can improve their academic achievement and aid in their battles with maladies such as ADHD and child obesity.

Exercise and Academic Success

We know that regular exercise would be a healthy recommendation to any person, but high levels of physical activity can now be correlated with academic success in boys during their first three years of school.

Researchers from the Physical Activity and Nutrition in Children (PANIC) Study at the University of Eastern Finland have collaborated with those from the First Steps Study at the University of Jyvaskyla to explore the relationships between physical and non-physical activity and academic success. From grades one through three, 186 Finnish children were subjected to several types of activities, some participating in physical activities and others in sedentary (seated or relatively non-mobile) activities, and their aptitude in reading and arithmetic was analyzed.

It was found that boys who experienced greater amounts of physical activity during recess displayed more advanced reading skills than boys who had less exercise, and boys who were involved in organized sports scored higher on arithmetic tests than boys who did not participate in organized sports. In particular, boys who walked or rode their bikes to and from school each day achieved markedly better scores than those who were transported by bus or car. The results are focused on the male subjects, because too few links were observed between the activities and academic results in females.

Among the sedentary activities that were participated in, there is little surprise that boys who spent leisure time reading and writing were more successful in those disciplines during class time. However, it is noteworthy that boys who spent moderate amounts of time playing video games or using a computer scored higher on arithmetic tests than boys who had no computer or video game time.

Imagine that; a little video gaming might actually be beneficial to a child’s brain development. That should be a relief to parents and nannies everywhere. After a day that has included legitimate exercise and some brainy leisure time activity, allowing an hour of video games can still positively affect your child or charge.

Aerobic Exercise and ADHD

Another study, done at Michigan State University, examined the effects of aerobic activity on classroom behavior and performance in children that are at high risk of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). The head of MSU’s Kinesiology Department, Alan Smith, and a psychologist from the University of Vermont, Betsy Hoza, lead the study.

Over the course of 12 weeks, 200 elementary school children either participated in daily aerobic exercise before school or were part of a group that engaged in sedentary activities. Some of these children displayed symptoms of ADHD, and others exhibited no signs of the disorder.

The results of the study suggested that all of the children involved made positive strides due to their respective extra-curricular activities. The data that stood out, however, indicated that children who were at risk of ADHD and participated in physical activity benefitted in more ways than at risk children who participated in classroom activities. Furthermore, they showed noticeable reductions in ADHD related symptoms, such as inattentiveness, moodiness and difficulty getting along with others, both in the classroom and at home.
The implications of this information could improve the lives of children who have ADHD and the families of those children by proving early day exercise to be a welcomed intervention in the battle against the disorder. There is no mention of data that suggests physical activity could replace medication, but at the least, it can be a healthy complement to it. Overall, the research bolters the philosophy that exercise is a necessary part of a child’s daily life, but it implies also that exercise might serve children best if engaged in before school.

Brain Training Fights Child Obesity

A third research team has discovered that while children display more intense cravings to unhealthy food than do adolescents and adults, they possess the same cognitive ability to regulate those cravings as do their older counterparts.

Jennifer A. Silvers, a post-doctoral fellow at Columbia University, conducted a team of colleagues that tested the effects of cognitive strategy on responses to food cravings, and the report of that study was published in Psychological Science.

The researchers selected 25 individuals, who were in good health and ranged in age from 6 to 23, to be the subjects of a neuroimaging session. The subjects were given an fMRI scan while being shown various foods that would be considered unhealthy (sweet and salty items).
First, they were asked to concentrate on what the food might taste and smell like, in order to measure their natural response to such temptations. Then, they were asked to imagine the food solely in terms of what it looks like, it’s visual aspects. This second trial, in which the goal was to redirect the individual’s attention, allowed researchers to examine the person’s ability to regulate their response to the stimulus.

In other words, by asking the participants to distract themselves from the more tantalizing aspects of the foods that caused cravings, the researchers were able to assess how well a person can use cognitive strategy to combat those cravings.

The results of the study were two-fold. First, it was concluded that young children experience a generally more intense craving for tempting foods. Secondly, it was found that all of the individuals involved experienced a 16% reduction in craving by imagining the visual qualities of the food rather than the qualities of taste and smell. In other words, children were just as capable of regulating their cravings by using cognitive strategy as were adolescents and adults.

Due to these findings, cognitive strategy is now being considered as another source of intervention against childhood obesity where, in the past, the strategies used were based on changing a child’s environment by avoiding certain foods or encouraging exercise. This has spawned a movement to add cognitive training regiments to daily school activities.

None of these studies are definitive, and more research is being conducted to solidify the theories that have been formulated, but it is important for everyone (parents, nannies and care-givers, teachers and pediatricians alike) to be aware of where psychological and developmental research is going. After all, it might soon be shaping the methods we employ to raise and care for our children, and what could be more important than that?

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