Three fascinating studies have revealed the interesting ways increased physical activity can help today’s children in the years to come.

Investing in exercise can increase crystallized intelligence

The link between physical fitness and academic ability is nothing new – plenty of studies dating back decades highlight this. But now, a new project led by physical education experts, sports scientists, and psychology researchers has revealed that improved academic performance is not the only cognitive perk.

The study involved children aged 8 to 11 following an exercise program based on group games, running activities and bodyweight exercises to build strength. They did an average of 4.5 hours of exercise a week at a relatively high intensity – averaging 70 percent of their maximum heart rate during each 90-minute session.

After six months of regular physical exercise, researchers measured improved mathematics and problem-solving ability, as well as improved overall intelligence. Most notably, this includes something called crystallized intelligence, which is wisdom and knowledge that comes from prior learning and is acquired within formal education and beyond. The researchers also found exercise significantly improves cognitive flexibility, a remarkably important attribute that enables children to adapt to changing tasks or rules, consider multiple concepts simultaneously, and shift attention as situations change.

More evidence of unique brain benefits comes from another new study that used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure children’s changes in blood flow and brain activity. These findings show increased cardio fitness levels have a positive influence on functional brain networks, which is important for episodic memory, attention, and executive function tasks.

With these findings in mind, lead researcher Francisco Ortega, from the University of Granada, has some important advice for parents and caregivers. “If your children do not perform well academically, do not punish them … or withdraw them from an after-school sports activity … do just the opposite." He says increasing doses of daily physical activity is imperative.

Fitter children are primed to better tolerate climate change

With global warming continuing to accelerate, environmental exercise physiologist Dr. Shawnda A. Morrison warns that it is children who will likely suffer the health implications from the planet’s rising temperatures. This is because children have different body proportions and heat loss mechanisms than adults, so they cope with high temperatures differently.

Morrison has conducted a comprehensive review of over 150 medical and scientific studies exploring children and exercise, their ability to cope with the heat, and what may change as global temperatures rise. The findings clearly show that a good level of physical fitness is key to tolerating higher temperatures. Meanwhile, an inability to manage higher temperatures can lead to increased risk of dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Interesting insights she unearthed included one study of 457 school boys in Thailand, showing that those who were overweight were more than twice as likely to have difficulty regulating their body temperature. She also found data from emergency departments at children's hospitals in the US, showing children’s attendance was higher during hotter days – and younger children were particularly likely to need emergency care.

Morrison says there is an alarming paradox; while the climate’s temperatures are rising, children’s physical fitness levels are on the decline. Longitudinal research indicates today’s children have 30 percent lower aerobic fitness on average than their parents did at the same age.

Childhood activity can protect against midlife mental decline

In a world-first, researchers have spent 30 years exploring how childhood activity levels, fitness and metabolic health may protect against dementia in our older years. Following 1,200 people who were between the ages of 7 and 15 back in 1985, the researchers studied the impact of their childhood fitness and obesity levels on cognition in middle age.

They found children who started with the highest levels of cardio-respiratory and muscular fitness and lower average waist-to-hip ratio had stronger processing speed and attention, and better global cognitive function three decades down the track. The researchers say the findings were not impacted by childhood academic ability or socioeconomic status, or by midlife smoking and alcohol consumption.

This comprehensive study confirms what past research has indicated; that children who engage in sport and physical activity and develop muscular strength, cardiorespiratory fitness and endurance have better health outcomes later in life.

BORN TO MOVE™ has been designed to help young people fall in love with physical activity. These short videos combine a motivating and scientifically-proven mix of age-appropriate movement with music – there are options from preschoolers through to teens.