Fit Body, Fit Brain

mind exercisesThere are several ways to improve your child’s math performance. Helping them with their homework and ensuring they have a grasp of basic concepts is important, but so is making sure that that your kids are getting enough exercise.

A recent study in PLOS ONE compared the brain configuration and math results between children who were fitter with those who were more sedentary.

US researchers assessed a group of 48 nine-and-10-year-old children for their fitness performance and examined their brain structure using an MRI. They then tested the children’s reading, spelling and arithmetic abilities.

They found that children who were fitter had brains with thinner gray matter in the superior frontal cortex, superior temporal areas and the lateral occipital cortex. While that sounds like a bad thing, it’s not.

“Gray matter thinning is the sculpting of a fully formed, healthy brain. The theory is that the brain is pruning away unnecessary connections and strengthening useful connections,” said lead researcher Laura Chaddock-Heyman from the University of Illinois.

And those children with higher levels of brain thinning (in the aforementioned areas) performed better in arithmetic. Interestingly their results in spelling and reading were not affected.

This is far from the only study that has shown a positive link between exercise and math. In Australia, a program called Maths on The Move taught Grade Four kids their timetables while they were outdoors in the midst of physical activity. The researchers found that the kids who learned math outdoors performed better than those who were taught math in a more traditional environment.

Another U.S. study analyzed a group of 171 sedentary, overweight students aged between seven and 11. The children were randomly allocated to three different groups, one with no intervention (a control group), one where the children were assigned to 20 minutes of exercise a day and one where they were assigned 40 minutes of exercise a day.

The experiment *cough* boot camp *cough* ran for 13 weeks. At the end of the program, the kids enrolled were rewarded for their efforts by being handed some IQ and achievement tests.
The researchers found that the students who exercised the most made the largest improvement in IQ (an average of 3.8 points) and were found to have improved math skills. The group who exercised for 20 minutes also showed improvement but with smaller gains.

So there you go, if you want your child’s math to improve but don’t want to help them with their homework, you can offer to take them jogging.


Marina Gomer is a journalist and mother of one.  She lives with her family in Sydney, Australia.