FRIDAY, Feb. 11 (HealthDay News) -- When overweight, sedentary kids start to exercise regularly, their ability to think, to plan and even to do math improves, a new study suggests.
In addition, exercise was linked to increased activity in the parts of the brain associated with complex thinking and self-control, according to brain imaging scans analyzed by the researchers.
"This implies that chronic sedentary behavior is compromising children's ability and achievement," said lead researcher Catherine Davis, a clinical health psychologist at the Georgia Prevention Institute at Georgia Health Sciences University in Augusta.
"We know that exercise is good for you, but we didn't have very good evidence [before this] that it would help children do better in school," said Davis.
Although this study was done among overweight children, she believes that similar results would be seen in normal-weight kids.
Davis speculates that these positive changes are a result of a combination of biological and environmental factors. "There are some neural growth factors that have been identified in mice that exercise," she said. These benefits may include more brain cells and more connections between them.
But there are also social and environmental factors, she noted. "[There's] more stimulation when things are moving faster and when you're moving. So it is cognitively stimulating to move," Davis said.
With one-third of U.S. children overweight, Davis thinks that exercise needs to become an essential part of children's lives.
"Make sure your child has a balanced life -- not only that they study, but that they learn to take care of their bodies as well," she said.
The report is published in the January issue of Health Psychology.
For the study, Davis's team randomly assigned 171 overweight children 7 to 11 years old, to either 20 minutes or 40
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