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By Mark Tremblay, PhD, and Joel Barnes, MSc, Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, and Leigh Vanderloo, PhD, Knowledge Translation Manager, ParticipACTION
The 2018 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth highlights the important relationship between physical activity and brain health. Achieving physical activity recommendations can translate to success in the classroom, on the field, and with friends.
This WellSpring focuses on the importance of this relationship and provides an overview of the 2018 Report Card grades.
The science is in: Kids + Steps + Sweat = Healthier Brains
For decades we have known that physical activity improves heart health, helps maintain healthy body weight, and builds strong bones and muscles in children and youth across a range of skills and abilities.1-4 Now we are taking a closer look at what physical activity does for one of their most vital and complex organs: the brain.
The data around physical activity are alarming. On average, kids are still sitting too much and moving too little to reach their full potential.
Only 35% of 5- to 17- year-olds are reaching their recommended physical activity levels as outlined in the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth.5 Just 62% of 3- to 4-year-olds are achieving the recommended activity levels for their age group. In addition, 51% of 5- to 17-year-olds and 76% of 3- to 4-year-olds are engaging in more screen time than is recommended by the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for recreational screen-based sedentary behaviours.5,6
There are important connections between the health of the body and of the brain, connections that must be fostered in order for kids to reach their mental, emotional and intellectual potential. Kids’ bodies have to move to get the wheels in their brains turning. They need to be active. Their brain health depends on it.
A growing body of evidence indicates that physical activity in childhood is essential for a healthy brain and leads to improved:
- thinking and learning
- emotional regulation and self-control
- problem-solving ability
- stress management
- self-esteem and self-worth
- brain plasticity — the growth of new brain tissue
- ability to cope with anxiety and depressive symptoms
- attention and focus
Adding more physical activity to kids’ routines could be the missing part of the equation in support of their success in the classroom, on the field, and with their friends.
Expert statement on physical activity and brain health for children and youth
For better brain health, all children and youth should be physically active on a regular basis. In addition to physical health benefits, physical activity also improves brain function, cognition and mental health.
A team of experts in paediatric neuroscience and exercise science created this Expert Statement, looking at the relationship between physical activity and brain health in children and youth. The best available scientific evidence was used to inform the development of this report.
While the physical health benefits of childhood physical activity are well known (e.g., improved heart, bone and muscle health; prevention of type 2 diabetes), a growing body of research has begun to examine the benefits of childhood physical activity in relation to brain health. Emerging evidence suggests that physical activity in childhood and adolescence is associated with better cognition (i.e., thinking and learning),7-11 brain function (i.e., how the brain works)12-15 and mental health (i.e., emotional, psychological and social well-being).3,16-23
The landscape of preventable chronic disease among children and youth is changing—and not for the better. The prevalence of overweight and obesity,24 diabetes,25 and use of health services for mental illness is high.26
Further, there is a lack of appropriate and/or modified equipment, as well as few professionals who are prepared or trained to promote physical activity among children and youth with brain-based disabilities.
How does physical activity help the brain?
Cognition, brain function and brain structure
The current state of evidence highlights that many studies find favourable relationships between physical activity and cognition.7,12,27 Most studies support a positive relationship between physical activity and brain function and structure.28,29
Physical activity plays an important role in helping children and youth learn better, solve problems more creatively, and develop healthier brains. Children and youth who are least active or who have brain-based disabilities may have the most to gain.
Overall, physical activity supports and encourages mental and emotional wellness.
Collectively, the research indicates that physical activity plays a key role in preventing and reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety,3,16,30-32 in helping with stress management,20 and in improving self-esteem in children and youth.23,33,34 Although initial evidence is promising, additional work is needed to clarify and confirm the relationship between physical activity and mental health in children and youth with brain-based disabilities.
Boosting kids’ physical activity levels could be the missing part of the equation in supporting their mental health.
Physical activity recommendations for brain health
Overall, for healthy brain development, children and youth should aim to participate in at least the daily minimum of physical activity recommended by the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines.5,6 But always remember: some physical activity is better than none.
With the approval of their healthcare provider, children and youth with brain-based disabilities should be encouraged to engage in a variety of activities at various intensities that are fun and appropriate for their skill level and abilities. Supportive, accepting, and modified environments (inclusive of the right equipment and trained coaching staff) are essential.
- Provide daily opportunities for physical activity and active play during school and childcare hours.
- Interrupt long periods of sitting with active breaks.
- Avoid using the removal of opportunities for physical activity and outdoor play as punishment.
Health care professionals
- Recommend children and youth meet the Canadian physical activity guidelines to promote good brain health.
- Recommend and/or “prescribe” physical activity to complement the prescribed medical course of treatment.
- Be familiar with community-based inclusive programming.
- Support the availability of specially trained staff and settings that facilitate physical activity for all children and youth, including those with disabilities.
- Encourage the development of inclusive and universally designed play opportunities, resources, and spaces.
- Foster the growth and development of specialized and inclusive programming.
Results from the 2018 Report Card
In 2018, there were generally small changes to indicator grades. Among the daily behaviour indicators (Overall Physical Activity, Active Play & Leisure Activities, Active Transportation, Organized Sport Participation, Physical Education, Sedentary Behaviours, Sleep, 24-Hour Movement Behaviours), most grade changes were small and due to adjustments to the grading scheme. A majority of children and youth in Canada are not getting at least 60 minutes of daily, moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity.35,36
Among the sources and settings of influence indicators (Family & Peers, School, Community & Environment), the grade for School dropped from a B to a B– due to the high proportion of schools in Canada with only partially implemented physical activity-related policies (e.g., Physical Education and Daily Physical Activity).37 The grade for Community & Environment dropped from an A– to a B+ owing to new data showing that many municipalities in Canada have important infrastructure needs (e.g., maintenance, repair and/or improvements to trails, paths and facilities).38
The sole strategies and investments indicator in the 2018 Report Card (Government) dropped from a B– to a C+ due to there being little evidence that federal efforts to increase physical activity support will impact child and youth physical activity directly.
Overall, results are similar to previous years in that there are generally good grades for indicators relating to sources and settings of influence and investment and infrastructure, and poor grades for behavioural indicators. Several new indicators appear in the 2018 Report Card including Physical Education, 24-Hour Movement Behaviours and Physical Fitness.
What can you do to improve the results of the Report Card and help kids sit less and move more? ParticipACTION has developed support materials to help you use the Report Card now and in the coming months, to facilitate your efforts to “improve the grades.” Currently, the following tools are available:
- 2018 ParticipACTION Report Card — Highlight Report
- 2018 ParticipACTION Report Card — Full Report
- Expert Statement on Physical Activity and Brain Health for Children and Youth
- Links to background research papers for the Expert Statement on Physical Activity and Brain Health for Children and Youth
- Past Report Cards
- PowerPoint presentation
- Media materials
- Social media kit
About the 2018 Report Card
ParticipACTION relies on its strategic partner, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute’s Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group (CHEO-HALO), to research, develop, and communicate the Report Card. Production of the ParticipACTION Report Card has been made possible through financial support from Days Inn. Additional support is provided by provincial and territorial governments through the Interprovincial Sport and Recreation Council.
To download the 2018 ParticipACTION Report Card Highlight Report, including the Expert Statement on Physical Activity and Brain Health for Children and Youth, or the full report, please visit www.participaction.com/reportcard.
About the Authors
Mark Tremblay, PhD, is the Director of the HALO group at the CHEO Research Institute and a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Ottawa.
Joel Barnes, MSc, joined HALO in 2010 as Knowledge Synthesis and Analysis Manager. He also provides web programming and data management services.
Leigh Vanderloo, PhD, is the Knowledge Translation Manager at ParticipACTION and is also a Research Fellow at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ontario.
- Berntzen B, Jukarainen S, Kataja M, et al. Physical activity, cardiorespiratory fitness, and metabolic outcomes in monozygotic twin pairs discordant for body mass index. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2018;28(3):1048-1055.
- Potter M, Spence JC, Boule NG, Stearns JA, Carson V. Associations between physical activity, screen time, and fitness among 6- to 10-year-old children living in Edmonton, Canada. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2017;42(5):487-494.
- Biddle SJ, Asare M. Physical activity and mental health in children and adolescents: a review of reviews. Br J Sports Med. 2011;45(11):886-895.
- Saunders TJ, Gray CE, Poitras VJ, et al. Combinations of physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep: relationships with health indicators in school-aged children and youth. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2016;41(6 Suppl 3):S283-293.
- Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. Canadian 24-hour movement guidelines for children and youth: An integration of physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and sleep. http://www.csep.ca/CMFiles/Guidelines/24hrGlines/Canadian24HourMovementGuidelines2016.pdf. Accessed 27 June 2016.
- Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. Canadian 24-hour movement guidelines for the early years: An integration of physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and sleep. http://csepguidelines.ca/early-years-0-4/. Accessed November 2018.
- Chu C-H, Chen F-T, Pontifex MB, Sun Y, Chang Y-K. Health-related physical fitness, academic achievement, and neuroelectric measures in children and adolescents. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology. 2016:1-16.
- Pontifex MB, Parks AC, Henning DA, Kamijo K. Single bouts of exercise selectively sustain attentional processes. Psychophysiology. 2015;52(5):618-625.
- Hillman CH, Pontifex MB, Raine LB, Castelli DM, Hall EE, Kramer AF. The effect of acute treadmill walking on cognitive control and academic achievement in preadolescent children. Neuroscience. 2009;159(3):1044-1054.
- Pontifex MB, Saliba BJ, Raine LB, Picchietti DL, Hillman CH. Exercise improves behavioral, neurocognitive, and scholastic performance in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. J Pediatr. 2013;162(3):543-551.
- Kao SC, Westfall DR, Parks AC, Pontifex MB, Hillman CH. Muscular and aerobic fitness, working memory, and academic achievement in children. Medicine and science in sports and exercise. 2017;49(3):500-508.
- Ziereis S, Jansen P. Effects of physical activity on executive function and motor performance in children with ADHD. Res Dev Disabil. 2015;38:181-191.
- Santos S, Jimenez S, Sampaio J, Leite N. Effects of the Skills4Genius sports-based training program in creative behavior. PLoS One. 2017;12(2):e0172520.
- Colzato L, Szapora Ozturk, A., Pannekoek, J., Hommel, B. The impact of physical exercise on convergent and divergent thinking. Front Hum Neurosci. 2013;7:824.
- Hillman CH, Pontifex MB, Castelli DM, et al. Effects of the FITKids randomized controlled trial on executive control and brain function. Pediatrics. 2014;134(4):e1063-1071.
- Choi PH, Cheung SY. Effects of an 8-week structured physical activity program on psychosocial behaviors of children with intellectual disabilities. Adapt Phys Activ Q. 2016;33(1):1-14.
- Brown HE, Pearson N, Braithwaite RE, Brown WJ, Biddle SJ. Physical activity interventions and depression in children and adolescents : a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Med. 2013;43(3):195-206.
- Pontifex MB, Fine JG, da Cruz K, Parks AC, Smith AL. VI. The role of physical activity in reducing barriers to learning in children with developmental disorders. Monogr Soc Res Child Dev. 2014;79(4):93-118.
- Martikainen S, Pesonen AK, Lahti J, et al. Higher levels of physical activity are associated with lower hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis reactivity to psychosocial stress in children. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2013;98(4):E619-627.
- Roemmich JN, Lambiase MJ, Balantekin KN, Feda DM, Dorn J. Stress, behavior, and biology: risk factors for cardiovascular diseases in youth. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2014;42(4):145-152.
- Liu M, Wu L, Ming Q. How does physical activity intervention improve self-esteem and self-concept in children and adolescents? Evidence from a meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2015;10(8):e0134804.
- Hermens N, Super S, Verkooijen KT, Koelen MA. A systematic review of life skill development through sports programs serving socially vulnerable youth. Res Q Exerc Sport. 2017;88(4):408-424.
- Frank A, McCloskey S, Dole RL. Effect of hippotherapy on perceived self-competence and participation in a child with cerebral palsy. Pediatr Phys Ther. 2011;23(3):301-308.
- Abarca-Gómez L, Abdeen ZA, Hamid ZA, et al. Worldwide trends in body-mass index, underweight, overweight, and obesity from 1975 to 2016: a pooled analysis of 2416 population-based measurement studies in 128· 9 million children, adolescents, and adults. The Lancet. 2017;390(10113):2627-2642.
- Mayer-Davis EJ, Dabelea D, Lawrence JM. Incidence trends of type 1 and type 2 diabetes among youths, 2002-2012. N Engl J Med. 2017;377(3):301.
- Public Health Agency of Canada. Report from the Canadian Chronic Disease Surveillance System: mental illness in Canada. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada;2015.
- Verret C, Guay MC, Berthiaume C, Gardiner P, Beliveau L. A physical activity program improves behavior and cognitive functions in children with ADHD: an exploratory study. J Atten Disord. 2012;16(1):71-80.
- Chaddock L, Erickson KI, Prakash RS, et al. Basal ganglia volume is associated with aerobic fitness in preadolescent children. Dev Neurosci. 2010;32(3):249-256.
- Chaddock L, Erickson KI, Prakash RS, et al. A neuroimaging investigation of the association between aerobic fitness, hippocampal volume, and memory performance in preadolescent children. Brain Research. 2010;1358:172-183.
- Ahn S, Fedewa AL. A meta-analysis of the relationship between children’s physical activity and mental health. Journal of pediatric psychology. 2011;36(4):385-397.
- Pan CY, Chu CH, Tsai CL, Lo SY, Cheng YW, Liu YJ. A racket-sport intervention improves behavioral and cognitive performance in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Res Dev Disabil. 2016;57:1-10.
- Carter T, Morres ID, Meade O, Callaghan P. The effect of exercise on depressive symptoms in adolescents: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2016;55(7):580-590.
- Lubans D, Richards J, Hillman C, et al. Physical Activity for Cognitive and Mental Health in Youth: A Systematic Review of Mechanisms. Pediatrics. 2016;138(3):p.e20161642.
- Eime RM, Young JA, Harvey JT, Charity MJ, Payne WR. A systematic review of the psychological and social benefits of participation in sport for children and adolescents: informing development of a conceptual model of health through sport. The international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity. 2013;10(1):98.
- Roberts KC, Yao X, Carson V, Chaput JP, Janssen I, Tremblay MS. Meeting the Canadian 24-hour movement guidelines for children and youth. Health Rep. 2017;28(10):3-7.
- Colley RC, Carson V, Garriguet D, Janssen I, Roberts KC, Tremblay MS. Physical activity of Canadian children and youth, 2007 to 2015. Health Rep. 2017;28(10):8-16.
- Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute. Bulletin 01: school policies supporting physical activity and sport. March 31, 2016; http://www.cflri.ca/document/bulletin-01-school-policies-supporting-physical-activity-and-sport.
- Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute. Bulletin 11: perceived infrastructure barriers and needs. March 31, 2017; http://www.cflri.ca/document/bulletin-11-perceived-infrastructure-barriers-and-needs.
July 2018, Volume 29, No. 07
Click here for a print copy (4 pages, PDF).
|Don't miss the next WellSpring. Subscribe to ACAL's Active Living E-News to receive our monthly notice.|