Friday, May 08, 2009

Exercise routine sparks brain development

Parents urged to limit time on computer games

Cindy Stephen, For Neighbours

Published: Thursday, August 14, 2008

Although a good night's sleep and a healthy breakfast can prepare your child for a day of learning, experts are finding other smart ways to beef up the brain.

"Neuro-science is growing so much because of new technologies," says chartered psychologist Deb Skaret.

"We're finding that there are lots of things that parents can do to help facilitate the health and overall intellectual development and curiosity of their children."

Skaret, who holds a PhD in educational psychology from the University of Alberta, has long been a student of the brain and cites the latest research into how exercise benefits the muscle between your ears.

"We're learning how exercise is critical for brain development. It's like a spark," she says, adding that lack of physical activity can be connected to children with attention problems. She says American physician John J. Ratey tested junior high school students by running them on a treadmill before morning classes and found they were more alert in school.

Scientific research shows that exercise increases the fitness level and development of brain cells, and benefits the hippocampus (a seahorse-shaped brain structure) which is vital for memory and learning.

"I'm concerned about a child playing a lot of computer games and not having a balanced, recreational lifestyle. It's just a hypothesis, but I think we'll see greater challenges with kids holding down a conversation in the classroom. They're used to flashy stuff, and maybe it will be hard to sit down and enjoy a book," says Skaret, who jokes that the thumbs of future generations will be longer because of increased video games use.

Parents should encourage a balance of recreational activities and limit time on computer games, encouraging interaction and conversation with others.

Skaret also recommends parents monitor stressors in their children's lives.

"A little bit of stress is good. Hey, you got an assignment due, nothing like stress to help you get it done. But chronic stress, such as family fighting, and you get a child with constant anxiety," she says.

"Chronic stress creates cortisol which inhibits memory. If a child is sitting in school worrying, they can't concentrate or they learn something and it just falls through."

Cutting edge research still touts the benefits of sleep and adequate nutrition.

"Basically, when your brain doesn't have the nourishment it needs, you're foggy and fatigued. It's hard to stay focused," says nutrition specialist Theresa Riege of the Calgary Health Region.

Riege stresses the importance of a breakfast that is a combination of several food groups, particularly protein and whole grains, which will take longer to digest and help students keep their energy level up throughout the morning.

"Some children won't always be hungry upon first awakening," she says. If whole grain cereal or eggs don't appeal to them, Riege suggests thinking outside the traditional cereal box.

"Left-over pasta or even a ham sandwich is good. Whatever food goes into them should be as nourishing as possible," she says.

"Avoid that sweet sugar rush in the morning. It will get them going faster, but they'll lack energy by mid-morning and will inhibit their function from a thinking, and even play, perspective."

The Calgary Health Region, Nutrition and Active Living, has published a school nutrition guide book for schools, teachers and parents which is available on their website at nutrition.htm.

"It will give parents some food options and outlines some strategies for packing lunches and snacks," says Riege.

1 comment:

  1. Increasing physical activity throughout your day can help you manage your weight and keep your blood glucose levels closer to normal.