Short bursts of exercise boost kids' brain-power

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Short bursts of high-intensity exercise will help boost your kid's brain-power, say scientists.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) – which involves short bursts of high-intensity activity followed by a brief low intensity activity – was also shown to be beneficial for children who have weaker heart health or genetic conditions that cause them mental challenges.

Researchers from the University of Auckland said that while we all know that exercise is good for children, they reckon the way they exercise should be re-examined.

"Previous studies have suggested that long, sustained workout sessions, performed at a moderate intensity for 30 to 40 minutes, are most beneficial to learning and memory," first author Dr David Moreau said.

"We wanted to see if short, intense bursts of exercise could also lead to meaningful cognitive improvements in children, and whether the effect of exercise on the brain is different depending on physical health and other individual characteristics."

The researchers studied 305 children aged 7 to 13. They were given six tasks testing cognitive control and working (or short-term) memory.

After completing the tasks, the children were then randomly assigned to a HIIT program or an active placebo group designed for enjoyment and motivation.

Kids doing the HIIT program did a 10-minute HIIT workout every morning on weekdays for six weeks, which equalled five hours of exercise over the course of the experiment.

To measure the impact, the kids were then required to complete the original six cognitive tasks again.

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Researchers found that children who participated in the HIIT training had marked improvements on both their working memory and cognitive control. And their overall improvements were larger than their counterparts in the placebo group.

"Our findings highlight the potency of short but intense physical workouts and suggest that aerobic exercise is not the sole means to improve brain power," Dr Moreau said in a Daily Mail article.

"It is important to note that physical exercise generally is not a single solution for addressing cognitive deficits – in some cases, more targeted or individualised interventions might be required.

"However, it remains that exercise is one of the most beneficial and non-invasive ways of enhancing cognition. Furthermore, we've shown that it needs not be time-consuming – as little as five hours of exercise can lead to sizeable benefits."