A recent study conducted by researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital has found that exercise assists in the organization of developing brains in growing children. The study discovered that physical activity was linked to more flexible, strong and efficiently organized brain networks.
Dr. Caterina Stamoulis, who is the study’s lead, conducted an analysis of brain imaging data collected from an estimated 6,000 children between the ages of nine and ten. Stamoulis, who is also the head of the Boston Children’s Computational Neuroscience Laboratory, explained that the physical activity children engaged in didn’t matter as long as they were active. She conducted the study with her trainees Sean Parks and Skylar Brooks.
For their study, the researchers obtained brain imaging data from the ABCD study, which is funded by the NIH. They utilized functional magnetic resonance imaging data to approximate the organizational properties and strength of the brain circuits of the children as this would determine how easy it was for the brain to adapt to changes in the environment as well as how efficiently it functioned.
Stamoulis noted in the study that the preteen years were a crucial time in brain development as those years were linked to changes in the functional circuits of the brain, especially those that supported high-level thought processes, adding that unhealthy changes could result in long-lasting deficits in the skills required for reasoning and learning as well as risky behaviors.
The researchers then merged this data with each participant’s body mass index and information on sports involvement and the physical activities they engaged in, which was provided by their families. The researchers then adjusted the data for factors that could impact brain development including family income, sex, puberty status and premature births.
The team of researchers discovered that engaging in physical activity a few times every week for at least an hour had a favorable effect on brain circuitry. Children who took part in high levels of exercise demonstrated positive effects on brain circuits in multiple areas that are important to reasoning and learning. These included the ability to control, coordinate and plan behaviors and actions, decision making, memory, motor and sensory processing and attention. In contrast, a higher body mass index was found to have a harmful effect on brain circuitry. However, these negative effects decreased with regular physical activity.
Stamoulis notes that local brain networks that are highly connected and communicate via robust long-range connections which improve information transmission and processing in the brain.
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