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Good Readers Are More Fit

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Health, Wellness, & Safety

The stereotypical book worm is pale, skinny, and physically weak, with weak eyesight and weak muscles. Now a new study demonstrates that the opposite is actually true: children who are physically fit have faster brain responses when reading than kids who are not physically fit. Better brain response translates into more fluent reading and comprehension.

Researchers at the University of Illinois measured “event-related brain potentials” connected to processing of semantic information and language structure was collected from children as they read ordinary sentences. Children with greater levels of fitness appeared to have a richer vocabulary, greater understanding of the meanings of words, and better ability to detect errors in grammar and word usage. In short, fit kids were smarter than less-fit kids.

These findings support previous studies that have found that exercise is linked to school success, but the news here is the brain-based mechanism that accounts for this success. No other factors that could have resulted in the difference in brain performance was found. The difference in reading ability depended on physical fitness.

The take-away is obvious. Get kids moving and keep them moving. Here are some tips:

  1. Make certain your children get at least one hour of active play every day. Consider that for every hour of sedentary play – video game play, television viewing, and even reading – a child should be active a matching hour.
  2. Avoid excuses. It’s easy to say it’s too hot, too rainy, too windy, too unsafe, or too inconvenient to get children outdoors or to the park or swimming pool. Make physical activity a habit at your house.
  3. Pay attention to playing time in organized sports. Your child isn’t active when she’s sitting on the bench. Notice how much time any child sits and watches others on game days and even during practices.
  4. Make certain that recess is included in your child’s school day. School may be out for the summer, but recess is endangered in many districts. During the summer may be the right time to remind school officials of the importance of recess and your expectation that active play is part of every single school day.

Good readers have an advantage in school. Who knew that good readers also are at an advantage at play? Reading and fitness go hand-in-hand.

© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.