Brain Research on Learning, Exercise, and Video Games!
Please welcome my guest author, Sarah Clachar, who has some alarming news about children’s brain development and video gaming. On the positive side, exercise and learning are also related. After reading her article, I started carting around my son’s 500+ page Percy Jackson book and little baggies full of legos in my purse for him to use instead of his iPod Touch while we wait at restaurants.
What do you do to keep your kids off screens and active? PLEASE share! We could all use more ideas, especially me! Thank you!
What Goes Best With A Good Book?
What’s the best thing you could have with a good book?
A banana muffin? Nope.
A cup of tea? Nope.
A nice comfy chair? A roaring fireplace? A quiet evening? All good things . . .
But Nope. Nope. And nope.
Okay, I’ll clarify – I didn’t mean exactly together at the same time. That could be a challenge.
But along with helping develop your child’s love of reading and good books, the best thing you can give your children is a love of movement. In fact, they go better together.
Because here’s the overlooked secret about exercising – it’s one of the best brain foods around.
And keep reading, because at the end, I’ll explain why we even run a huge danger by favoring one over the other . . .
Dr. Catherine Davis and her team have been studying this working with overweight children in Georgia. Every day after school, she gathered her research team of 7- to 11-year-olds and exercised for 40 minutes after school.
In just three months, here’s what she found . . .
- The children’s intelligence scores went up an average of 3.8 points.
- The children’s math scores improved significantly – without any additional math tutoring.
These results have been supported in other research . . .
- Researchers at the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have found that simply by walking on the treadmill, participants’ attention span increased.
- Researchers at the Montreal Heart Institute found that 4 months of interval exercise (30 seconds of sprinting followed by 30 seconds jogging/walking) simply made middle age participants smarter on cognitive tests.
- Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles have shown rats who exercise grow more neurons and longer neurons in their brains more quickly. And this worked for rats with neural damage as well. It seems exercise may even help us grow bigger brains.
Okay, so now you can see why exercise and a love of books goes together so well. Now let’s get into why exercise makes such a big difference when it comes to brain power . . .
Why Exercise Builds Brain “Muscle”
When Dr. Davis’ team took brain MRI’s of the children participating in her program, she found something very interesting.
It looked like exercise stimulated increased activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the part of the brain associated with complex thinking, decision-making and correct social behavior.
In other words, exercise was giving children a very fundamental tool for becoming scholars – the ability to structure themselves and think.
And that’s not all –
In another study, researchers measured the volume of the hippocampus of children and compared the volumes to their fitness levels. It turned out the children who were the most fit also had larger hippocampal regions in their brains – on average about 12% bigger.
The hippocampus plays a huge part in the process of making memories and in integrated learning. It helps us integrate what we’ve learned into our brain’s mighty processing centers so we can apply it when we need it.
Exercise helps our children integrate information and remember what they’ve learned.
What’s Shrinking Our Children’s Brains
The complementary role exercise plays to reading and healthy brain development is brought out in even sharper contrast by another phenomenon plaguing our children . . .
Over the past few months in my household we’ve developed a just-about-down-to-nothing policy on video games for my son. It’s not about violence or aggressiveness issues (although research bears out this is a problem with them too.)
It’s simply about helping him learn to focus, think and manage life.
We found whenever he played video games, he was unable to do his chores properly or focus on a conversation.
Several years ago, a team of researchers in Japan set out to demonstrate that educational video games could help with children’s brain development. They were hoping to gain research dollars from their study.
They had children read aloud, do math problems and play educational video games.
What they found shocked them –
It didn’t matter what kind of focus the games had, video games barely engaged the frontal lobe of the brain, the part associated with learning, emotional control and memory. They could see the marked difference between the video game-playing brains’ activity and the brains engaged with reading or math.
Truly disturbed by what he witnessed, the lead researcher, Ryuta Kwashima, has gone on to speak at parenting and educational conferences urging parents to pay attention to the debilitating effects of video games.
As Kwashima and other neurologists have pointed out – when you don’t stimulate parts of the brain, it doesn’t develop. Kind of like the old exercise adage – use it or lose it.
With exercise and reading our children are using parts of the brain critical for analytical thinking, problem-solving and self-control. These two activities seem to complement each other.
But as our children ditch books and jump rope for computer games, they’re losing out double-time.
But here’s some insights the research hasn’t quite touched yet . . .
Beyond Research And Onto Mom’s Intuition
All this research supports my belief in the power of moving for not just building big muscles but our health overall – mentally and emotionally.
But let’s cut through the science-speak . . . and allow me to take this one step further . . .
Our bodies are complex – beautifully sophisticated!
Unfortunately more and more, we’re only using a small part of it – our fingers to tap at keyboards and our eyes shift back and forth. Our brain processes the information it gets during these activities. But it’s only being used at a fraction of its capacity.
When I’m not working at my computer, I’m working with my children on our farm (we grow most of our food), practicing kickboxing and jiu jitsu together or we’re exploring the hills on mountain bike.
And I know in every fiber of my being that I’m using whole dimensions of my brain when I observe, react, coordinate, balance and execute that can’t be touched by the simple act of reading.
I love reading – I’m a bookworm through and through. But I’ve come to value not only the benefits exercise brings to my consumption of books . . . but the balance it brings.
Books open us to new ideas, perspectives and give us just plain old facts, essential for getting through life.
But getting outside, moving and doing helps us apply, evaluate and tweak what we learn in books. It helps return to reading with our own perspective and insights that makes it even a richer experience.
And as this research underscores, it helps us process information faster and more effectively as readers.
So let’s get down to a mom’s intuition . . .
Just like you’ve inspired your children to love reading, make the skill of reading stronger and make them stronger. Next time you help them choose a good book . . . make sure you go outside and play a game of tag with them too.