Just in time for school, a new study shows how the combination of reading, a good diet, and playing organized sports can increase a child’s thinking abilities.
For two years, the Scientists at the University of Eastern Finland followed 504 children between the ages of six and nine years old. The study found that children who spent more time reading and playing on sports teams were able to develop better cognition than those who focused on other activities. The best results came when a diet consisting of low fat milk, fish, vegetables, fruit, berries, and high-fiber grain products were included in the child’s routine.
On the other hand, a decrease in cognition was found when children spent more time doing random unsupervised activities, such as aimlessly using a computer or playing video games, and ate a diet that included types of red meat which had higher amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as sausages. According to brainfacts.org,” Just 10–20 minutes of violent gaming can increase activity in the brain regions associated with arousal, anxiety, and emotional reaction, while simultaneously reducing activity in the frontal lobes associated with emotion regulation and executive control”.
Although the study showed that cognitive development is hindered when the child’s screen time is without purpose, according to Brain&Life, not all gaming is bad. Video games can actually help brain development in a number of positive ways, such as enhanced visual perception, improved ability to multitask, and better information processing. “In a way, the video game model is brilliant,” says Judy Willis, M.D. “It can feed information to the brain in a way that maximizes learning.”
The study also examined the impact of structured play. Through playing, children can learn about the world around them. According to Bricks for Kids, “structured play”, such as doing a puzzle or joining a soccer team, teaches children about problem-solving, goal setting, team work and how to overcome obstacles along the way. As opposed to “free play”, in which children are engaged in recreation without any specific goals or rules, the study showed a difference in the intellect of the participants who engaged in more structured styles of play.
Researchers were not certain exactly why that was, as both styles of play have positive attributes. The scientists wondered if their results were because structured play allows for increased opportunities for more complex hands-on kinesthetic learning which engages the motor cortex.
As opposed to schools where students have a more open, free-play style of recesses, schools which include more structured-style recreation in their educational programs show a steady trend in higher student IQ and academic performances. Team sports especially have been shown to offer a mental health boost as they blend physical activity with social development. However, there are other forms of intelligence which are just as important as logical, math and science, such as Emotional Quotient Intelligence (EQ).
It’s been shown that unstructured, “free” play is linked with increased neuroconnectivitiy in the prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain associated with regulating emotions, understanding, the ability creatively problem solve and the ability to feel empathy for others.
It’s no surprise that reading was linked to increased smarts. A 2014 study published in the journal Child Development of identical twins found that early reading skills were linked to higher intellectual abilities later in life. “Reading regularly with young children stimulates optimal patterns of brain development, which helps build strong pathways in the brain and in turn builds language, literacy, and social-emotional skills that can have life-long health benefits” (northfieldhospital.org).
Although this new study out of the University of Eastern Finland centers specifically on the benefits good food, focused fitness and reading has in regards to children’s brainpower; all of these activities are beneficial for other reasons too. Combined with good sleeping habits, all of these pastimes are positively linked to children having higher self-esteem, more positive social connections and friends, as well as lower rates of anxiety and depression.
An avid book reader and proud library card holder, Angela is new to the world of e-Readers. She has a background in education, emergency response, fitness, loves to be in nature, travelling and exploring. With an honours science degree in anthropology, Angela also studied writing after graduation. She has contributed work to The London Free Press, The Gazette, The Londoner, Best Version Media, Lifeliner, and Citymedia.ca.