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Could Fitter Kids Be Smarter Kids, Too?

Children who are physically fit might do better with reading, language skills, researchers report

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Mary Elizabeth Dallas

HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, June 6, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Children who are physically fit might have better language skills than their peers who are less fit, new research suggests.

The University of Illinois researchers found these kids have faster and stronger brain responses during reading, which results in better reading performance and language comprehension.

"Our study shows that the brain function of higher-fit kids is different, in the sense that they appear to be able to better allocate resources in the brain towards aspects of cognition [thinking] that support reading comprehension," study leader Charles Hillman, a kinesiology and community health professor at the University of Illinois, explained in a university news release.

The researchers noted that their findings do not prove physical fitness (as measured by oxygen uptake during exercise) directly affects the electrical activity of the brain. They did suggest that it provides a possible explanation for the association between fitness and improved performance on certain tests of brain function.

"All we know is there is something different about higher- and lower-fit kids," explained Hillman. "Now, whether that difference is caused by fitness or maybe some third variable that [affects] both fitness and language processing, we don't know yet."

In conducting the study, the researchers used electrodes to measure brain activity. Brain waves associated with different tasks vary from one person to the next. They also depend on the type of activity or stimulus.

The study, published recently in the journal Brain and Cognition, focused on brain waves associated with word recognition and grammar.

The study showed that being fit was linked with stronger brain wave activity in these two areas when reading normal or nonsensical sentences. The researchers suggested that's why the fit kids could process information more quickly than less fit kids their own age.

The researchers pointed out that more studies are needed to investigate the link between improved brain function and physical fitness in children.

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