Exercise and Your Child's Brain

Exercise makes the brain work smarter

March usually marks the middle of the third term of the school year. For some children the winter months are the most challenging. With shorter days and cold, sometimes snowy weather, they are less able to get outside and burn off their extra energy. This makes it difficult for them to “settle down” and get working on their homework.

There is actually a neurobiological reason for this and it has to do with the neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain. I won’t get technical here, but there are three main chemicals in the brain that influence learning. They are serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. These chemicals work together to focus, motivate and improve learning in the brain. In his book, Spark, John Ratey, says that exercise improves learning in three ways. I’m paraphrasing but it helps to improve alertness, attention and motivation, helps the cells hold onto new learning and spurs the development of new brain cells. All of which are necessary for new learning and of course for homework.

Here’s how you can help. If you notice that your child is struggling to settle down to do their homework don’t force them. That tends to shut down the brain making it harder to work. Instead, encourage some activity for 15 to 30 minutes. Set a clear time frame so that your child is not surprised that they have to get back to their homework. Provide a five minute and a two minute audio and visual reminder to help with their transition back to homework.

Most middle school students can focus for 30-40 minutes and for elementary age children it is about 15-20 minutes. It’s important to break up your child’s homework time with 5-10 minute activity breaks after a period of focused work. Also providing a snack of lean protein can increase your child’s level of dopamine. Dopamine helps the brain carry the messages from one side to the other. (For children with ADHD, medication helps to increase the level of dopamine allowing the brain to feel “comfortable” and to process the information more efficiently.)

So get your kids active and watch their ability to focus increase and the amount of time they spend on their homework may decrease.

This was originally seen in our Laine’s Logic Newsletter last month. To sign up, go here: Newsletter sign up

Parents of Children with ADHD Support Group Meeting April 5, 2012 at Hingham Public Library at 7pm. All are welcome.

Week 7: One Day At A Time Towards Health

            I know you have heard it before. We all know we should but then, why don’t we? Exercise regularly that is. I recently stepped back to “people watch” and discovered how many people have difficulty moving about. I take my ability to walk, ride a bike, snowshoe, ballroom dance and swim for granted. I wonder if those I see shuffling along or using a cane or walker thought about what their bodies would be like 10-20 years in the future. It got me thinking. If you don’t have your health or your ability to move then your options are limited and your quality of life may suffer.

            A quick Google of the “benefits of exercise” results in over 22,600,000 hits. To summarize, it prevents certain types of cancers, lowers risk of Type 2 diabetes, improves cardiovascular health, may help you lose weight, the list goes on and on. Now who wouldn’t want any one of those – better yet, all of those?

            So, as part of this 12 week plan I think it is important to consider fitting in regular exercise. Take a look at your schedule, could you get up a bit earlier and work out or walk before going to work? Yes, I know you are already getting up early and it is very dark still and will be even darker next week when the clocks jump ahead but try it for a week and see how you feel. Or try doing something active for 30 minutes when you get home. Take it one day at a time. Sure at the beginning you won’t see any big changes but maybe you’ll notice a bit more energy or a better night’s sleep. If you keep at it you may notice your clothes fitting differently and that I think is a great motivator. Feeling thin and fit reinforces your willpower to continue. Change it up, don’t stick with the same type of activity every day or if you do remember to push yourself a bit extra each time. The body is designed to be worked (I read that somewhere) and you’ll notice that the more you work it, the better it will feel. Of course always check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.

            Picture yourself 10 years from now, are you active and mobile or are you limited by what you can do? I for one do not wish to wait for someone else to push my wheelchair off the plane. I have been doing this for two weeks now and need another notch in my belt. Just typing that puts a smile on my face. I feel good knowing I am headed in the right direction. I wish all of you, the same success. Please let me know how you are doing.