Children and Exercise


This “View From the Shore” comes with a health warning….lol. It  is science heavy, if you bear with it however it explains “Executive  Function”. This is a crucial part of the psychology not only of  children but of adults. It demonstrates that you can kick start your  childs functionality in dealing with the situations which life may  throw at them.  

This is an essential skill when you are not there to guide and assist  them. It attends to exercise in general but is specifically aimed at  Kayaking because in the next few articles I will be tailoring them to  the specific benefits of Kayaking/canoeing. So please bear with me  whilst I set the foundation for a series of three more assessable and  relevant articles. I fully recognise that this one particular article is  tough going. The next three won’t be.!!!!!!!!!! 

Going back to the time of the ancient Greeks, it has been believed that  physical activity is linked in a very direct way to intellectual  development. 

However, it is only recently been studied systematically. In particular  the relationship between exercise and childrens mental function is  now being evaluated in a serious and scientific way.  

A historical overview provided by Kirkendall (1986) sheds light on  why this might be the case. His review of research published prior to  1985 revealed that a number of positive studies on the psychological  benefits of physical activity were conducted during the 1950s and  1960s. 

The re-emergence of interest in this subject stems largely from the  health and wellness movement in the 1980s and 1990s, along with the  emergence of academic degree programs specializing in exercise  psychology, led to a renewed interest in evaluating the effects of  exercise on psychological processes (Tomporowski 2006). 

Comparatively less research has been conducted to assess how  exercise influences children’s mental development. Several recent 

experiments conducted both with adult humans and animals  (Colcombe et al. 2004a, b; Pereira et al. 2007) provide evidence that  exercise performed on a regular basis for several weeks alters brain  functions that underlie cognition and arguably more importantly for  parents, behaviour.  

Physical activity results in a host of biological responses in both  muscles and organs that, in turn, modify and regulate the structure and  functions of the brain (Dishman et al. 2006).  

Given that children respond to exercise in a fashion similar to adults,  exercise experiences would have important implications for their  education. 

The purpose of the present review is to demonstrate and evaluate  published studies that have examined the effects of physical activity  and exercise on children’s intellectual function, cognitive abilities,  and academic achievement—three outcome measures often targeted  by educators as indices of children’s mental function.  

The review consists of two parts: first, an overview of contemporary  cognitive theory directed toward exercise; second, a description of  cross-sectional and experimental studies conducted with children. 

The Executive Function Hypothesis 

Cognition is a general term that describes a number of underlying  mental processes. 

  1. Executive function, which involves scheduling, response inhibition a type of socialisation, planning, and working memory. 
  2. Controlled processing, which requires the automatization of response sequences in other words a type of socialisation where your child builds a store of appropriate responses to given  situation.(Chodzko-Zajko and Moore 1994); 
  3. Visuospatial processing, which involves perceptual learning that is to say judging distance, assessing depth of water by colour, spotting obstacles like shallows, stones etc all essential tools for Kayaking and crucially these skills are transferable.  They apply once they leave the aquatic environment. So  transfer to other sports, riding a bike, playing football swimming  etc. (Stones and Kozma 1989);  
  4. Speed of Processing Girduso and Clifford 1978. Their analysis revealed that aerobic exercise, like Kayaking resulted in a moderately large effect on overall cognitive performance. 

Executive functions are a crucial element in the everyday lives of all  of us.  

They are involved in planning and selecting strategies that organize  goal-directed actions These can range from arranging a dinner menu  to decisions at school, game strategies, who to play with, who NOT to  play with and later in life work related decisions. (Das et al. 1994)  

It is possible that the executive function hypothesis can be extended to  predict exercise-related improvements in children’s cognitive  function. Advances have been made relatively recently that provide  an understanding of children’s brain development and the relation of specific brain regions to performance on cognitive tasks (Amso and  Casey 2006; Casey et al. 2000; Diamond 2002).  

There is evidence for a dramatic increase in gray matter volume in  infancy and early childhood, which is followed between age 7 and  young adulthood by decreases in gray matter in the frontal cortex and  a protracted increase of myelination and connectivity (Giedd et  al. 1999; Sowell et al. 1999, 2004).  

Children’s development of executive function has been viewed for  some time as the cornerstone for the emergence of both psychological  processes and social behaviors.  

A child who cannot effectively plan, update working memory, shift  from one mental set to another, and inhibit impulsive behavior is 

unlikely to be able to stay on task in the classroom and excel  academically (St Clair-Thompson and Gathercole 2006).  

Moreover, the ability to control or inhibit responses is purported to  underlie children’s capacities to develop imagination, experience  empathy, act creatively, and to self evaluate thoughts and actions  (Barkley 1996). I will describe in the next section the results of  exercise studies conducted with children and evaluate them in light of  the executive function hypothesis.

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