Beneficial for the health of the heart, body and mind, physical exercise has many health benefits. A new study by researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital adds another benefit for younger children: physical activity seems to help organize the children’s brain development, knowing that it is already recommended to promote healthy growth and development. The published study in the journal “Cerebral cortex” consisted of analyzing brain imaging data from nearly 6,000 children aged 9 and 10. Its results show than physical activity was associated with more efficiently organized and flexible brain networks.
Concretely, the more physical activity is practiced, the better the brain is. “It didn’t matter what kind of physical activity the kids were involved in. “Says Dr Caterina Stamoulis,” it just matters that they are active. The researchers used functional magnetic resonance brain imaging data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study, a long-term study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. Their goal: to estimate strength and organizational properties children’s brain circuits, or the efficiency with which the brain works and the ease with which it can adapt to changes in the environment.
One hour of physical activity several times a week
“Pre-adolescence is a very important time in the development of the brain. », Notes Dr Stamoulis. “It is associated with many changes in the functional circuits of the brain, especially those who support high level thought processes. Unhealthy changes in these areas can lead to risky behaviors and lasting deficits in skills needed for learning and reasoning. The scientific team combined the data obtained with information on physical activity and children’s sports practice, provided by families, along with their body mass index (BMI).
Finally, the scientists adjusted the data for other factors that may affect brain development, such as birth before 40 weeks gestation, puberty status, sex and family income. The results show that being physically active several times a week for at least 60 minutes has a generalized positive effect on brain circuits. Thus, children who practiced high levels of physical activity showed beneficial effects on brain circuits in several areas essential to learning and reasoning. These included attention, sensory and motor processing, memory, decision making, and executive control.
A stronger connection between neurons
The latter ability is to plan, coordinate and control actions and behaviors. On the other hand, it turns out that an increase in BMI had adverse effects on the same brain circuits, although regular physical activity reduced these negative effects. “We believe that physical activity affects the organization of the brain directly, but also indirectly by reducing BMI. », Notes Dr Stamoulis. In the analyzes, the brain was represented mathematically as a network of “nodes”: a collection of brain regions linked by connections of varying strength. Physical activity had two types of positive effects on these brain networks.
Firstly, it has a positive impact on the efficiency and robustness of the network as a whole and, secondly, in a more local way such as the number and the grouping of these “nodes”. However, as Dr Stamoulis points out, “the local brain networks highly connected that communicate with each other through relatively few but strong long-range connections optimize the processing and transmission of information in the brain. ” “In preadolescents, a number of brain functions are still developing, and they can be affected by a number of risk factors. Our results suggest that physical activity has a positive protective effect in all areas of the brain. », She concludes.