Exercise directly impacts the behavior and development of the brain. "It is likely that the effects of physical activity on cognition would be particularly important in the highly plastic developing brains of youth," according to a 2010 essay penned by Charles Basch of Columbia University. He summarized how exercise may affect executive functioning:
Physical activity has benefits beyond improved grades, too. Basch extrapolates current research and connects physical activity to absenteeism, drop-out rates, and social connectedness.
There is a growing body of research focused on the association between school-based physical activity, including physical education, and academic performance among school-aged youth.
This developing literature suggests that physical activity may have an impact on academic performance through a variety of direct and indirect physiological, cognitive, emotional, and learning mechanisms.
Research on brain development indicates that cognitive development occurs in tandem with motor ability.
Several review articles also have examined the connections between physical activity and academic behavior and achievement.
Sibley and Etnier conducted a meta-analysis of published studies relating physical activity and cognition in youth. Two additional reviews described the evidence for relationships between physical activity, brain physiology, cognition, emotion, and academic achievement among children, drawing from studies of humans and other animals across the lifespan.
Finally, two other reviews summarized select peer-reviewed research on the relationship between physical activity and academic performance, with an emphasis on school settings and policies.
Research also has explored the relationships among physical education and physical activity, fitness levels and motor skill development, and academic performance. For example, several studies have shown a positive relationship between increased physical fitness levels and academic achievement as well as fitness levels and measures of cognitive skills and attitudes.
Yoga through its techniques of meditation, asanas, and pranayama yields a positive effect in the management of stress in adolescents. [nih.gov]
The processing of sensory information at the thalamic level is facilitated during the practice of pranayama and meditation.
The research done by Mind/Body Institute, Harvard Medical School, and Bruce D’Hara and his team at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, U.S., revealed a positive influence of meditation on brain functioning and performance.
The findings of this study reveal that the students who experienced yoga module performed better in overall academics as well as in their separate subjects than those students who did not experience yoga module. The results are in tune with the earlier studies, which found that meditation, practiced over long periods, produces definite changes in perception, attention, and cognition.
Other studies have shown that yoga techniques are helpful in the management of anxiety and improvement in concentration.
The capacity for continuous alteration of the neural pathways and synapses of the living brain and nervous system in response to experience or injury that involves the formation of new pathways and synapses and the elimination or modification of existing ones.
The Capacity of neurons and neural networks in the brain to change their connections and behaviour in response to new information, sensory stimulation, development, damage, or dysfunction.
Rapid change or reorganization of the brain's cellular or neural networks can take place in many different forms and under many different circumstances.
Neuroplasticity occurs when neurons in the brain sprout and form synapses.
As the brain processes sensory information, frequently used synapses are strengthened while unused synapses weaken. Eventually, unused synapses are eliminated completely in a process known as synaptic pruning, which leaves behind efficient networks of neural connections.
Neuroplasticity occurs during development in childhood, following physical injury such as loss of a limb or sense organ, and during reinforcement of sensory information such as inlearning.
Neuroplasticity forms the basis of research into brain-computer interface technology, in which computers are designed to interact with the brain to restore sensation in people with an impaired sense such as the loss of vision.
Research on neuroplasticity is also aimed at improving scientists' understanding of how to reactivate or deactivate damaged areas of the brain in people affected by stroke, emotional disorders, chronic pain, psychopathy, or socialphobia; such research may lead to improved treatments for these conditions.
Meditation, a form of mental training to focus attention, has been shown to increase the control over brain resource distribution, improving both attention and self-regulation.
The changes are potentially long-lasting as meditation may have the ability to strengthen neuronal circuits as selective attentional processes improve.
Meditation may also enhance cognitive limited capacity, affecting the way in which stimuli are processed.
Studies have found that meditation significantly decreases stress related cortisol secretion and may elevate brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which protects neurons against stress and stimulates the production of new neurons. Meditation practice has also been associated with physical changes in brain structure.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of Buddhist insight meditation practitioners who practiced mindfulness meditation were found to have an increase in cortical thickness and hippocampus volume compared to the control group.
This research provides structural evidence that meditation practice promotes neural plasticity and experience-dependent cortical plasticity.
In both human and animal studies, exercise has been shown to improve cognitive performance on encoding and retrieval tasks.
Morris water maze and radial arm water maze studies of rodents found that, when compared to sedentary animals, exercised mice showed improved performance traversing the water maze and displayed enhanced memory for the location of an escape platform.
Likewise, human studies have shown that cognitive performance is improved due to physiologicalarousal, which speeded mental processes and enhanced memory storage and retrieval.
Ongoing exercise interventions have been found to favourably impact memory processes in older adults and children.
Exercise has been found to positively regulate hippocampal neurogenesis, which is considered an explanation for the positive influence of physical activities on memory performance.
Hippocampus-dependent learning, for example, can promote the survival of newborn neurons which may serve as a foundation for the formation of new memories. Exercise has been found to increase the level of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) protein in rats, with elevated BDNF levels corresponding with strengthened performance on memory tasks. Data also suggests that BDNF availability at the beginning of cognitive testing is related to the overall acquisition of a new cognitive task and may be important in determining the strength of recall in memory tasks.
Should you have your kids doing Down Dog? Consider this: Yoga for kids is proven to improve self-esteem, physical health and grade point averages among children.
In a Gaiam-funded study of kindergarten through 8th-grade students in an inner-city school, researchers from California State University examined the correlation between yoga for kids and academic performance, discipline, attendance and self-esteem. The 2003 study showed a 20 percent increase in the number of students who felt good about themselves — and a 6 percent increase in classroom discipline scores, indicating that students who had high participation in yoga class also had fewer referrals or discipline problems. In addition, while the increase in average GPA was not provided, the study showed a "statistically significant" link between yoga participation and better grades.
"It works on many levels," says Marsha Wenig, creator of the Gaiam YogaKids® DVD programs and president of YogaKids International. After nearly 20 years of bringing yoga to children, Wenig says she has seen the benefits first-hand. "On a physical level, it develops strength, flexibility and concentration," she says. "But the main thing it gives children is the feeling of 'I can do it.'"
"Yoga covers the whole gamut," she continues. "There are breathing and quiet moments, as well as movements that develop eye-hand coordination and motor skills."
More important, she says, yoga for kids promotes a way of learning that's natural for children. "Children are kinesthetic learners — they learn through movement," she explains. "It's how they interact with the world. When that element is incorporated, the difference is magnificent. They get it."
Wenig is developing a program for teachers of young children and teens that merges yoga with astronomy, geography, math and languages. By incorporating sound, movement and "childese," Wenig says she is dishing out yoga in kid-size portions so it can be used as a springboard into education. For example, the yoga pose downward-facing dog might be used to teach children about acute angles.
But whether teaching children about geometry or teaching them how to relax, Wenig says it's important to know how they think. "You don't teach children like you teach adults," she says. "You have to empower and excite them about being physically and mentally fit. To them, yoga for kids is about fitness, fun and feeling great."
Evidence suggests that administering oxygen enhances memory function.
For example, adult participants who inhaled oxygen sixty seconds before the presentation of a word list that was to be studied, showed improved recall compared to a group who did not.
Blood oxygen saturation and heart rate are positively correlated with each other. Research has found that an increased heart rate during word recall is associated with improved memory performance.
Administering oxygen before the test, though, had no effect, suggesting that increased blood oxygen saturation specifically enhances memory consolidation.