There’s never been a better time to encourage your kids to move! Past research has shown physically-fit kids have higher cell volumes in gray matter areas of the brain, and are usually better with cognition and memory tasks. And now, a new study is showing active kids tend to have more fibrous tracts of white matter in the brain, too.
In the study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, researchers used diffusion MRI to look at the white matter in the brains of 9- and 10-year-old participants. They controlled for any variables that might also affect these regions of the brain—such as ADHD diagnosis, onset of puberty, and IQ—and found the connective pathways to be stronger and healthier, leading to more efficient nerve activity, and better attention and memory.
With the kids going back to school and hectic schedules hitting overdrive, you might think it’s more difficult to squeeze in exercise—but it’s important for healthy bodies and minds, and not as tough as you’d think. Here, NYC-based trainer and fitness expert Larysa DiDio, author of Sneaky Fitness: Fun, Foolproof Ways to Slip Fitness into Your Child’s Everyday Life, offers 6 ways to get active as a family.
1. Walk it out “After-dinner family walks are the best time to get fit together and bond,” DiDio says. “Studies also show walking after a meal lowers blood glucose levels the most.”
2. Take a study break Since studying requires seated concentration, encourage your kiddos to take breaks. “For every half hour of homework, have your kids do 30 jumping jacks,” DiDio says. “It boosts memory power and burns calories.”
3. Effectively use TV time “Place a bosu or mini trampoline in front of the TV,” says DiDio. “Kids will naturally jump while they watch.” She also recommends limiting screen time to a maximum of two hours per day—children will automatically find more active things to do instead.
4. Skip movie night You can still stay in, but movies turn you into total couch potatoes. “Instead of watching a family movie, pick an active Wii or Xbox video game and have a tournament,” says DiDio.
5. Look into races “Sign up for a charity race, and then prep together as a family,” says DiDio. It’s something you can do daily. Whether it’s a walk or run, it doesn’t matter. The importance is in the anticipation and the activity.
6. Wash while you can Take advantage of the warm weather in late summer and early fall, and schedule a weekend day as ‘car wash’ day, suggests DiDio. “It’s so much fun to do as a family, and it really gets kids moving,” she says.