It’s no surprise that a fit body is important for a fit mind. Art Kramer and Laura Chaddock led a team of scientists from the University of Illinois in determining just how the two connect. For nine and ten year old kids, it’s through the hippocampus.
The hippocampus is a paired structure within the brain that is involved in both spatial navigation and long-term memory. Studies done on either animals or older humans have shown that exercise can increase the size of the hippocampus. The University of Illinois wanted to see whether the same was true for children, and whether such a difference would translate to increased brain power.
To begin with, the researchers had a bunch of nine and ten year old children run on a treadmill, and measured their oxygen usage. More fit individuals at any age will use oxygen more efficiently. They next had MRIs taken of the kids’ brains, specifically measuring the size of their hippocampuses. Finally, they had the kids take some memory tests.
The physically fit children had hippocampuses that were up to 12% larger in volume than the sedentary kids, and also did better on the memory tests. This suggests that rather than cutting physical education to make room in the budget and time schedule for more academics, schools should make every effort to increase opportunities for improving student fitness.