We all remember our mothers warning us not to eat too much sugar, or it would make us hyperactive; telling us if we were cranky, that we should get off the couch and go play outside. If you are also a mom like me, you may be thinking, of course, that this is common sense. After all these years, scientists now seem to be getting behind what mothers may have known all along: kids need a healthy diet and exercise. It is good for them and affects how they learn.
Diet can have a huge impact on how your child learns. A high fat diet can cause irritability, changes in behavior, and more difficulty taking in information and remembering. In contrast, a healthy diet may increase learning and memory. In fact, kids who are taught about healthy eating score higher in listening and speaking, math and on standardized tests.
Exercise can also help kids think by increasing brain activity. Moderate exercise, like a walk around the school building, can result in better test scores. This is especially true for students who are overweight. Participating in 20-40 minutes of aerobic exercise can improve their overall ability to organize thoughts, manage their time, make decisions and prioritize tasks.
So there you have it: healthy eating and exercise can cause changes in the brain that actually do have an effect on kid's learning and behavior. So what can you do to make sure that your child is ready to learn?
1. A University of Illinois study released in February of 2013 shows a possible link between childhood obesity, ADHD, and memory-dependent learning disabilities. Granted, this study was done on mice but still provides additional evidence to a growing body of research indicating the enormous impact of diet and exercise on brain function and learning. In this study, animal behavior changed to anxious, and learning and memory deficits developed after only one week on a high fat diet. Conversely, when the animals were switched to a low-fat diet, memory was restored in one week. Similar studies are starting to be conducted on the connection between diet, exercise, and learning with children.
2. There is a growing body of evidence linking healthy eating habits to increased learning. A small pilot study of 84 6th graders in California, over a five-week period, found that students who received nine healthy eating lessons, scored higher in listening and speaking, mathematical reasoning, and algebra functions as measured by their performance on standardized testing. Physical activity can also have a positive impact on brain activity.
3. Studies show that getting exercise can actually help kids think. Research conducted by Charles Hillman, Ph.D. at the University of Illinois Urbana- Champaign found that moderate activity, like a walk around the school building, was linked to increased brain activity. This translated to better test scores and faster completion of assessments. Along these same lines, researchers in Georgia found that overweight students, who participated in a 20-40 minute aerobic after-school exercise program, improved their overall ability to organize thoughts, manage their time, make decisions, and prioritize tasks. Mathematics scores for these students improved, as well. These studies seem to indicate, that healthy eating and exercise cause changes in the brain which in turn affect kids' behavior. So what can you do?1. Visit a pediatrician to make sure that your child is eating a healthy diet and getting enough exercise to perform well and reach their potential in school.
4. Visit a pediatrician to make sure that your child is eating a healthy diet and getting enough exercise to perform well and reach their potential in school.
5. Use the numerous resources available online and locally to teach your kids healthy eating habits and an active life style. Here are a few to try:
*Sesame Street Healthy Habits Page: http://bit.ly/sesame-street-healthy-habits
* Let's Move: http://www.letsmove.gov/eat-healthy
*Dr. Yum: http://www.doctoryum.com/
6. Model healthy choices by preparing and eating healthy meals with your child and participating in exercise and active recreational activities as a family.
Nina lives in Spotsylvania with her husband and daughter. She owns Parrish Learning Zone, a K-12 tutoring service.