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Exercise Strengthens Brainpower

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A population of increasingly sedentary young American may be weakening their brains, as well as their bodies. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 25 percent of U.S. children don’t get any physical activity outside of school. So says the New York Times health blog Well. Meanwhile, budget-strapped school districts across the U.S. are cutting back on physical-education classes. The unexpected ripple effect of this couch-potato lifestyle? Poorer performance in the classroom. Well points to several recent studies that have shown a connection between aerobic exercise and stronger test-performance for young people.

One recent study of 9- and 10-year-olds by the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, found that fitter children had more developed hippocampi, the part of the brain that deals with complex memory, the blog reports. Another Illinois study of children the same age found that fitter kids also had “significantly larger basal ganglia,” the part of the brain that coordinates actions and thoughts. Exercise may not only increase the size of these regions, but help them work together; thus, fitness may “enhance neurocognition” in students, according to Well.

A Swedish study says it’s aerobic exercise that helps beef up gray matter, not strength training. And,forget using a Wii to get the fitness effect. Yet another Illinois study found it didn’t help — but kids who took a test immediately after doing 20 minutes on a treadmill enjoyed improved scores.

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