Physiological Effects on Brain Development and Cognitive Function by hcj


									                                        August 28th, 2004

Physiological Effects on Brain Development and Cognitive Function

       The effect of physical fitness and exercise on thinking and cognitive

development has been of interest since the time of the ancient Greeks.

Research on the effects of exercise on the human brain growth, development,

cognitive function, and consequently, its effect on improved academic

performance, is an emerging field of study showing a positive correlation

between brain function and physical activity. However, scientific study on this

relationship has only occurred during the last 50 years, revealing that exercise

does maintain and improve the cognitive and motor function in the brain (Sibley &

Etnier, 2003).

       In peer-reviewed symposia, Sibley and Etnier noted over 200 studies that

have focused on the relationship between exercise and mental acuity. Through

tests of perception, achievement levels, math, verbal skills, and memory in

children from elementary to high school age results pointed to “showing

significant effect sizes” (p. A-98). Furthermore, McNeely and Nonnemaker

(2002) asserted that “School sports participation is associated with physical and

psychological benefits” (p. 119). According to Judi Sheppard Missett of the

Health and Fitness News Service, “the connections between physical, emotional

and mental health are widely accepted, and scientific research indicates regular

exercise plays a vital role in achieving optimal health in all three areas” (p. J7).

Furthermore, McNeely & Nonnemaker (2002) asserted, “School sports

participation is associated with physical and mental health benefits, and

          Written By DuWayne Hass, Activities Director at Ogilvie High School, Minnesota
                                        August 28th, 2004

participation in other extra-curricular activities is associated with other

psychosocial benefits as well” (p. 119).

       Cathie Summerford, Special Theme Editor for “Teaching Elementary

Education” noted from several research based sources that with physical activity

and exercise, more oxygen-rich blood nourishes the brain, releasing greater

numbers of neurotransmitters and endorphins which, in turn, increases the

growth and efficiency of neural networks in the brain (Summerford, 2001).

Endorphins are responsible for feeling more relaxed and positive after physical

exertion (Missett, 2002). Causation can then be argued for greater success and

outlook in the classroom for students who are involved in sport activities and

therefore associating positive feelings for school attendance and involvement.

       According to Summerford (2001) “In studying the brain we can only

understand it in the context of a physical reality, an action reality” (p. 7) with

studies showing that physical exercise triggers chemical changes in the brain

which stimulates learning in mice, while associated work suggests that this may

work in humans as well. Exercise boosts the number of brain cells in the

hippocampus, the part of the brain know to be centrally important to learning and

memory. The basal ganglia and the cerebellum are not only associated with the

control of muscle movement, but also with coordinating thoughts. Similar studies

in mice with a stimulating environment compared to those without also have

shown significant differences in the number of neural connections between brain

cells. Mice exposed to a stimulating environment, which included rigorous

exercise, showed 25% more connections than the mice who were not stimulated.

          Written By DuWayne Hass, Activities Director at Ogilvie High School, Minnesota
                                        August 28th, 2004

According to Summerford, this would translate into trillions of extra connections

for a human (2001).

       Research conducted by Mercola (2001 reflected a strong correlation

between increased brain wave activity and exercise in humans. After a 30-

minute treadmill workout, patients completed “two computer tests, one more

difficult than the other” and compared the results to “results from tests the

participants took without exercising beforehand.” The results showed that

“exercising increased the speed of the decision making process,” with brain

activity kicking in “35 milliseconds faster after exercise” prior to the exercise.

When answering the questions “respondents answered more accurately after

exercise than they did when they had not” (p. 1). The question then arises as to

how much of a positive effect can increased brain wave activity has on brain

connection growth and cognitive development. According to Ratey (2001),

Harvard University Professor of clinical psychiatry, and author of “A Users Guide

to the Brain”, exercise improves our ability to master new, and remember old,

information. He further explained that our "physical movements call upon many

of the same neurons used for reading, writing and math" and "physically active

people reported an increase in academic abilities, memory retrieval and cognitive

abilities” (Ratey, 2001, p. 178).

     Etnier (1997) noted that the most significant effects or benefits of exercise

were measured among early elementary and middle school students. It is the

opinion of Sibley and Etnier (2003) that research greatly supports the causative

nature exercise has on the increased cognitive performance of children

          Written By DuWayne Hass, Activities Director at Ogilvie High School, Minnesota
                                        August 28th, 2004

regardless of student health or study design. Their recommendation for

education policy makers who want to “achieve optimal academic performance in

core subjects” was that they should “seriously consider the cognitive benefits of

exercise programs” (p. A-99). Based on these findings, it may be concluded that

participation in sport activities produces similar and perhaps identical results.

Strong consideration is necessary to expanding existing physical education

curriculum in our schools and the opportunities for sport participation at the

elementary level where the most formative years of the brains cognitive

development occurs.

       Gabbard (1978), conducted a study involving exercise and elementary

students which was significant not only in its results but also is still referenced in

current publications and studies (Summerford, 2001). Gabbard investigated the

relationship between physical exertion and mental performance in elementary

school. The test group involved 95 second graders who were pre-tested and

post-tested with mathematical tests conducted after 20, 30, 40 and 50 minute

exercise sessions. Results showed that there were no significant results

between male and female students, however, all subjects performed significantly

better after 50 minutes of physical exertion which was greater than their normal

20-30 minutes of exertion to which they had adapted to during regular class

periods. Gabbard concluded, “physical exertion had a positive influence on

mental performance” (p. 6). It must be noted here that this study tested students

immediately after physical exertion. However, the study does lend further

support to the notion that physical exercise through sport participation can have a

          Written By DuWayne Hass, Activities Director at Ogilvie High School, Minnesota
                                       August 28th, 2004

positive effect on brain function but needs to be tested in varying intervals of

exercise and rest.

         Written By DuWayne Hass, Activities Director at Ogilvie High School, Minnesota

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