Two years ago, I was unhappy and knew it was my job that was causing this state. I felt ineffective at helping the children I was supposed to be helping.
Always interested in learning, I started to undertake my own research into the best methods of helping children. At the end of that year I learned there are two sure fire methods of helping ‘at risk’ children.
The first, was how consistent daily exercise improves the functioning of all the organs, joints, muscles, tendons, skin and brain. An established fact, exercise improves mental health and has a better success rate than all the therapies I undertook as a counsellor.
The second, was an approach to helping others developed by Carl Rodgers in 1960, and used exclusively on adults but not children. Now Dr. Ross Greene at Harvard University developed it into a methodology that caterers to childrens’ problems called Collaborative Problem Solving where the child is seen as the problem solver and not just the problem. Each on it’s own helps children and together they are an unbeatable formula.
Facing the reality that these two methods were never going to be incorporated into the schools during my time as a counsellor, (due to the lack of support of staff by School Divisions toward mental health issues of their students) I decided to branch out on my own. I am committed to bringing these issues forward by passing on the research to everyone I come in contact with.
Researchers at the Georgia Prevention Institute at the Medical College of Georgia believe that weight and physical activity levels are both factors in a child’s ability to acquire and use knowledge.
The study, published in the journal Pediatric Exercise Science, provides some of the first evidence that weight, independent of physical activity, is a factor.
Investigators looked at 45 normal-weight children age seven to 11, including 24 who were active and 21 who weren’t. Children were considered physically active if they participated in organized activities such as swimming, gymnastics, soccer, or dance for more than an hour per week. The optimal method for mainstream children is 40 minutes a day and for ‘at risk’ children, it is an hour per day.
The study also looked at 45 inactive, overweight children with very similar demographics, with exact matches on gender and race, and close matches on other relevant issues such as parents’ marital status and education level and age. The matching of subjects and backgrounds helped to ensure that any differences were not strongly linked to socioeconomic status.
As expected, the 24 normal-weight, physically active children had a lower body mass index, or BMI, less fat, and a lower resting heart rate than the overweight, inactive children.
For example, when the active, healthy-weight group was compared to the overweight, inactive cohort significant differences were discovered. That is, the active group scored nine points higher for planning (things such as figuring out and carrying out a strategy and using knowledge), and eight points higher for their ability to pay attention.
Weight as an independent factor among inactive children generated an even bigger difference in the ability to pay attention, with normal-weight inactive children scoring 12 points higher. Those kinds of numbers could be the difference between a child being average in terms of his cognitive function and at the top end of the normal range.
In fact, the thinner, inactive kids scored higher on attention as well as a summary measure of cognition than their heavier peers.
Still, comparing inactive and active children who were all a healthy weight showed that activity alone clearly provided an edge, with the active children scoring higher in most areas of cognitive function, including 11 points higher for their ability to plan and seven points higher in attention.
“Activity made a difference even among normal-weight kids. That verifies that physical activity makes a difference in brain function,” Davis said.
While this study focused on weight, it’s likely the amount of body fat is what actually matters and overweight children in the study consistently had more fat, rather than having a higher weight because of extra muscle mass, for example.
The current research builds on past findings as both overweight and inactivity have been independently associated with a cognitive disadvantage in children. Davis published a study in 2011 in Health Psychology that showed regular exercise improves the ability of overweight, previously inactive children to think, plan, and even do math.
Those who participated in 40 minutes of exercise every day after school garnered even more improvement than those who were active for about 20 minutes daily.
That study also used the Cognitive Assessment System as well as functional magnetic resonance imaging, which showed those who exercised experienced increased brain activity in the prefrontal cortex –an area associated with complex thinking, decision-making, and correct social behavior.