Overweight children who exercise think better: Study

OVERWEIGHT children who exercise daily for at least three months can not only reduce their diabetes risk but also improve in their thinking ability, according to a 2007 study.

Besides the expected reduction in body fat, the research also found that there was improved bone density.

Carried out at the Medical College of Georgia (MCG), the study involved 200 overweight and inactive children aged between 7 to 11 who were subjected to three months of daily vigorous physical activity.


Positive impact on mathematics performance

Led by Associate Professor Catherine Davis of MCG's Department of Pediatrics, researchers gave the children tests that look at their decision-making processes. The result: Small to moderate improvements in children who exercised as well as a hint of increased mathematics achievement.

Dr Davis comments, "Is exercise a magic wand that turns them into lean, healthy kids? No. They are still overweight but less so, with less fat, a healthier metabolism and an improved ability to handle life."

sprintAll study participants learned about healthy nutrition and the benefits of physical activity; one-third also exercised 20 minutes after school and another third exercised for 40 minutes. Children played hard, with running games, hula hoops and jump ropes, raising their heart rates to 79 percent of maximum, which is considered vigorous.


Exercise has to be more than just PE

Researchers concluded that, "Regular exercise may be a simple, important method of enhancing children's cognitive and academic development. These results may persuade educators to implement vigorous physical activity curricula during a childhood obesity epidemic."

"If physical education were ideal, which it's not - it's not daily and it's not active - then children could achieve this within the school day," Dr. Davis says, pointing to benefits derived by children exercising just 20 minutes a day. "We are not there. To achieve maximum benefit, we were able to show it will take more than PE."


Reduced risk of diabetes

Looking at the children's insulin resistance, a precursor of type 2 diabetes in which it takes more insulin to convert glucose into energy, researchers found levels dropped 15 percent in the 20-minute exercise group and 21 percent in the 40-minute group. The control group stayed about the same.

The report states, "Increasing volume of regular aerobic exercise shows increased benefits on insulin resistance in overweight children, indicating reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, regardless of sex or race."

"We also know that if you stop exercising, you lose all the benefits," adds Dr. Davis. "Exercise works if you do it."

And so parents, get down to exercising with your children. Where I stay, it overlooks a school field and it's heartening to note both parents bringing down their kids to jog with them, and play vigorous ball games.

Rest assured your own physical effort won't be wasted...adult studies have also yielded comparable findings regarding exercise's impact on insulin resistance and cognition.