Boosting Brain Power with Physical Activity

by Naomi Mison, YMCA of Okanagan

For kids, physical activity isn’t just fun, it is crucial for the development of their brain structure, function and academic success. Yet, all too many families are struggling to get enough exercise.

In fact, according to the 2018 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth (the most comprehensive assessment of child and youth physical activity in Canada) Canadians received a D+ in overall activity levels.

Despite being advised of the importance of limiting screen time and the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle, the report states that five to eleven year olds and twelve to seventeen year olds in Canada spend 2.3 and 4.1 hours per day, respectively, in front of a screen.

More time in front of a screen means less time dedicated to physical activity and inactivity is the primary cause of most preventable chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type two diabetes, obesity and cancer. Therefore, it is no surprise that 83 per cent of Canadians rate physical inactivity as the most serious health issue facing society – even worse than tobacco and alcohol use.

A report written by Harvard University found that regular aerobic exercise (the type that gets your heart pumping and makes you sweat) appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the area of the brain involved in verbal memory and learning. Furthermore, kids feel a rush of serotonin and dopamine (the feel-good brain chemicals) from physical activity.

Adding more physical activity to kids’ routines could even be the missing part of the equation to support their success in the classroom. Physical activity can translate to improved scores on objective tests and grades, increased focus, longer attention spans and a boost in creativity, just to name a few.

The evidence is clear; it is crucial for kids to put down their devices, turn away from screens and get outside and play. Their mental, emotional and intellectual potential depends on it. But where to start?

Whether it is walking, swimming, hiking, biking, camping, sports or simply playing outside, children and families will benefit from ‘making space’ for more activity in their day.

Collectively, we all have a role to play in modelling healthy habits for our children and teaching them the foundational skills to live a life that incorporates regular physical activity. Set a goal to be active and play as a family for sixty minutes every day. You may find that the time spent being physically active together opens dialogue, builds connections and makes positive, lasting memories.

And, if you need a little extra help to build healthy activity into your family’s daily routine, organizations like the YMCA of Okanagan are available to help. As a local charity, the YMCA has a mission to build a healthier community and that begins with the health of local children and families.

The YMCA of Okanagan was established as a cause-driven charity dedicated to building a healthier local community. The Y provides a wide range of programs and services with a focus on health, inclusiveness and accessibility, serving people of all ages and abilities. Learn more about the many resources available for families by visiting

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