Monday, 3 June 2013

Exercise and the Effects on Cognition

Regular exercise and being active is beneficially to our well-being as a recent study has found. However, it is not just the body which benefits from exercise, but the mind too.

A unique study conducted by ICaP and colleagues from the University of Limerick found even small amounts of intense physical exercise can significantly improve the mental capabilities of children.

John Kiely, a Senior Lecturer in Elite Performance at the UCLan, worked with pupils and staff of Corpus Christi primary school in Moyross, Limerick, to see if exercise could benefit children academically.

Operating on a shoestring budget with the assistance of Limerick’s sport partnership, Mr Kiely, explained how the research was conducted.

"A child’s school performance is very hard to measure," he said. "There is a lot of research out there. People who exercise regularly tend to have better emotional control and cognitive ability than other people. However, physical activity is being eroded in schools as people say we need to get academic results. We said we would look at really short bouts of exercise that don’t interrupt the school day and see the results with brain training exercises."

Boys and girls from sixth class exercised on stationery bikes for five 20-second intervals, three times a week. After exercising, children went straight back to laptops for mental challenges.

"We used brain exercises that you do on a laptop," Mr Kiely said. "This software is devised by US based neuroscientists and they supplied it to us for free. The software is very specific to examining attention – how quickly you process information and your mental flexibility. After ten weeks all of the pupils showed large improvements. The most interesting part for the teachers was the pupils' ability to stay focused on tasks presented to them on the laptop."

Children diagnosed with attention deficits also scored highly on focus-based exercises. While the project is still in its infancy, Mr Kiely was delighted with initial results following the study.

"The children really bought into it and the teachers are reporting back that it certainly helps it terms of their concentration. We are still crunching the results but are encouraged by what we have seen to date and the feedback."

Teachers at Corpus Christi confirmed the study had enabled them "to work with the children at physical, mental and emotional levels" and there was a "direct link with children who were engaged physically to their academic achievements."

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