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  • 3 Things That Make the Biggest Impact on Your Child's Brain Development

    Want your child to excel in school? Here are three not-so-secret factors.
    by Rachel Perez .
3 Things That Make the Biggest Impact on Your Child's Brain Development
PHOTO BY iStock
  • What helps children improve their cognition or brain power and overall school performance have been a subject of many studies. A recent one showed, however, that a child's brain development to achieve full potential may be down to three things: physical activity or exercise, adequate quality sleep, and limited screen time.

    The study, published in Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, looked into the data of more than 4,500 kids ages 8 to 11 participating in the ongoing Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD) prospective cohort study. The children were asked to take six standard tests that gauge language skills, memory, planning ability, and speed at completing mental tasks.

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    Influence of physical activity, sleep and screen time

    The researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute in Ottawa then observed how the kids performed when it came to the recommendations of the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth. These are 60 minutes of physical activity daily, nine to 11 hours of sleep during the night, and no more than two hours of recreational screen time a day.

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    Almost half of the children got the recommended nine to 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, 37% met the recreational screen time limit, while 18% recorded accumulated physical activity of at least 60 minutes per day.

    While most of the participants met at least one recommendation, only five percent of the kids — that's 216 out of more than 4,500 kids — met all three recommendations. 

    The results showed that the 216 kids who followed the recommended hours on physical activity, sleep, and screen time scored higher on the tests compared to children who didn't meet any of the criteria. The kids who met the sleep and screen time criteria also recorded increased scores. 

    "We know these behaviors have independent effects on health. But they also have effects on each other, and there is an integration of how the whole day matters,” Jeremy Walsh, the lead author of the study and post-doctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan told  The Globe and Mail.

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    Path to your child's successful future

    The study's findings aren't exactly new, but it's the first time a study considered their combined effects on school-aged children's cognition, learning profile, and overall school performance.  

    School-aged kids, according to the age-by-age sleep recommendations of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), need at least nine to 12 hours of sleep for optimal health. The benefits children and teens get from adequate sleep include better attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and mental and physical health. It's basically what kids need to excel in school.

    Aside from reducing the risk of obesity and other health benefits, physical activity has proven to also boost kids' school performance. Exercise helps increased oxygen flow in the brain which impacts cognitive skills, including enhanced concentration, focus, and attention. It also influences kids' attitudes and behaviors towards school. Physical activity for 20-minute installments is already a step towards the right direction. 

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    Technology and screen time brings into the equation a lot of advantages. Kids do benefit from educations apps, shows, or games, but only when they use it wisely. Too much is never a good for children, not even for adults. When kids are dependent on screens, they can suffer from overall declined health, delayed motor skills development, and poor task performance. 

    The takeaway: count regular physical activity (if not exercise), sleep, and proper screen time use among the building blocks of your child's path to a successful future.

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