Researchers at the University of Illinois recently found a link between children who are more physically fit and their language skills. Children who were physically fit, displayed faster and stronger neuro-electrical responses in comparison to their less fit counterparts.
The original study, “The Association Between Aerobic Fitness and Language Processing in Children: Implications for Academic Achievement,” was published in Brain and Cognition this past month. Unveiling further clues regarding aerobic fitness and aspects of cognition.
Although this study did not prove the link between higher fitness and the corresponding electrical activity, it has given further insight into fitness and improved cognitive abilities. Charles Hillman, a professor of kinesiology and community health said, “all we know is there is something different about higher and lower fit kids.”
Forty-six children (aged 9-10), were recruited from local communities around the University. Children who scored at or above the 70th percentile (higher fitness group), and children who were below the 30th percentile (lower fitness group) in terms of aerobic fitness were included. Each group included twenty-three participants.
EEG scans were used, capturing electrical impulses associated with each child’s brain activity. The researchers focused on ERPs (event-related potentials), which are the wave patterns associated with various tasks. Researchers focused on N400 and P600, which is associated with processing the actual meaning of a word and the grammatical rules of sentences respectively.
The size and timing of the N400 show the richness of the mental lexicon, and the speed at which it can be accessed. Both N400 and P600 responses were influenced by aerobic fitness. While reading sensical and non-sensical sentences, the children who were more fit (which was measured by oxygen uptake during exercise), had higher N400 and P600 amplitude waves in comparison to their less-fit counterparts.
Higher fit children also exhibited short latency across sentences. This means that they processed information more quickly than lower fit children. Shorter N400 latencies suggest more mature neurocognitive development.
Previous research has shown that higher N400 amplitude is observed in higher-ability readers. This study suggests greater reading performance and language comprehension within more physically fit children. It is believed that higher fitness may be linked to a richer network of words and their associated meanings. They were also able to detect, then correct syntactic errors.
Future research will need to focus on the causes of improved cognition in higher fit children. However, these new findings do add valuable information to a growing body of research, linking healthy brain function and fitness.
School-based and after-school interventions should be implemented, aiming to improve overall health in children. These findings add beneficial information to prior research regarding fitness and cognitive health. It is important to understand how increased cardiovascular health may be beneficial to language processing.
By understanding the correlation between fitness and cognition, positive changes could be introduced to current school programs. This growing body of research is starting to unravel the cognitive benefits of maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle.