(Relaxnews) – Researchers at the University of Illinois say that kids in good aerobic fitness have brains that could be in better shape to quickly process neural messaging and have better capacity for memory than those whose fitness is mediocre.
According to the researchers, who worked with a small group of nine and 10 year olds, the fibrous and compact white matter tracts that connect the brain’s various lobes were found to exist in superior integrity in fit kids.
“Previous studies suggest that children with higher levels of aerobic fitness show greater brain volumes in gray-matter brain regions important for memory and learning,” said University of Illinois postdoctoral researcher Laura Chaddock-Heyman. “Now for the first time we explored how aerobic fitness relates to white matter in children’s brains.”
Indeed, a December 2013 study conducted on healthy young adults at the Boston University Medical Center concluded that the hormones produced during exercise could be beneficial for cognitive health, but no research had been done in this domain concerning children.
Researchers connected their 24 participants to diffusion tensor imaging technology (DTI, also called diffusion MRI) by means of which they observed five white-matter tracts in the brains.
By means of the DTI technology, they were able to judge whether the tissue is fibrous and compact by observing levels of water diffusion. Strong, healthy white matter diffuses little water.
Fitness-related differences were revealed in the composition and integrity of white matter tracts in the brain including the corpus callosum, which connects the two hemispheres, the superior longitudinal fasciculus, which connect the frontal and parietal lobes, and the superior corona radiata, which connect the cerebral cortex to the brain stem.
“All of these tracts have been found to play a role in attention and memory,” says Chaddock-Heyman.
The subjects had been controlled for variables that could have affected the results including social and economic status, age at the onset of puberty, IQ and learning disabilities such as ADHD.
No cognitive assessment was performed on the children, although previous research has indicated an association between aerobic fitness and cognitive function.
The research team is now at work tracking the subjects to see if the aforementioned white matter tracts maintain their integrity over time and in accordance with changes in the fitness routine.
The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.