Children need exercise. Parents often worry that making time for athletics or even for just playing on the Jungle Jim is going to take away from their kids’ academic achievement. But actually, the opposite is true. There have been analyses of huge numbers of studies that all show that kids who are fit are better in school, get better grades, and have higher intelligence scores than kids who are sedentary. And that is probably because across the lifespan, even into old age, there’s a strong correlation between a healthy heart and a healthy brain.
The brain is the most demanding organ that your circulatory system has to feed. It takes up a lot of the body’s oxygen and a lot of the body’s energy. And unlike most of your tissues, your brain can’t live very long without that blood supply. You cut blood supply off for about five minutes and parts of the brain start dying. So clogged arteries and little clots that cut off blood flow to the brain in older people are a significant source of cognitive difficulty and cognitive deterioration with age. And even in little kids, being physically fit clearly enhances intellectual performance.
The other thing parents should be thinking about is that in childhood your kid needs about 90 minutes a day of active moving around, and parents should really focus, I think, on making sure that that’s fun, first of all. You don’t want to institute exercise as punishment. And you also, I think, want to have them doing something that could potentially continue into adulthood. However much your kids like climbing trees, they’re not going to be doing that when they’re 40, not most of us anyway.
And if you give them a sport or a taste for hiking or a taste for yoga, something that grownups do, you greatly reduce the chance that they’re going to be one of the large numbers of people who are active children who grow into sedentary adults. Usually that transition happens around the age of 13 or so.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
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