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14 Sep 2023

Specific types of physical activity, diet and lifestyle promote powerful reasoning skills in young children
BY Tom Walker

Children who spent more time in organised physical activity showed better reasoning skills than their peers

Children who spent more time in organised physical activity showed better reasoning skills than their peers
photo: Shutterstock/Ground Picture

Children who take part in organised physical activity or sport over their first two school years, while also having better diets and spending more time reading have more powerful reasoning skills than peers who don't have the benefit of these kinds of support or engagement.

Reasoning skills are crucial in learning, academic performance and everyday problem-solving.

A study by University of Eastern Finland (Itä-Suomen yliopisto) researched data from the Physical Activity and Nutrition in Children (PANIC) project – a two-year diet and physical activity intervention which focused on cognition among 397 Finnish elementary school children.

Diet specifics were critical, with doctoral researcher, Sehrish Naveed saying: “Children with healthier eating habits showed greater cognitive development than children on poorer diets – specifically, better overall diet quality, with lower red meat and sausage consumption and greater intake of low-fat dairy products such as skimmed milk."

The report also suggests that excessive time spent on a computer and unsupervised physical activity during leisure time were associated with poorer reasoning skills.

Active school transportation, physical activity during school recesses, and physical activity intensity – while giving other major benefits – were not found to be specifically associated with reasoning skills.

Over half of the children participated in a two-year family-based and individualised diet and physical activity intervention. However, this intervention did not impact reasoning skills either, with the children in the intervention and control groups exhibiting similar cognitive development, indicating that it was the impact of organised physical activity that had the greatest power to impact outcomes.

"In the lives of growing children, diet and physical activity intervention is just one factor influencing lifestyle and reasoning skills. Based on our study, investing in a healthy diet and encouraging children to read are beneficial for the development of their reasoning skills. Additionally, engaging in organised sports appears to support reasoning skills," summed up Dr Eero Haapala, senior lecturer in sport and exercise Medicine at the University of Jyväskylä.

The research – Effects of two‐year dietary and physical activity intervention on cognition in children – a nonrandomised controlled trial – was published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports.

Researchers were: Sehrish Naveed, Taisa Sallinen, Aino-Maija Eloranta, Hannamari Skog, Henna Jalkanen, Soren Brage, Ulf Ekelund, Heikki Pentikäinen, Kai Savonen, Timo A. Lakka and Eero A Haapala/




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