Success in school depends on many factors for students, but one of the most important areas that can be overlooked is proper physical health practices that encourage healthy brain development. The brain is a demanding organ. It comprises only 2% of the total body weight, but consumes 8 to 10 times more oxygen and glucose than any other organ in the body. If our bodies don’t receive the proper nutrition they need, the brain is the first to suffer.
The effects and benefits of proper diet and exercise on a person’s brain cannot be overstated. This becomes even more important in the developing brain of a child! So what can parents do to prepare their child for a brain-healthy start in life?
Encourage Proper Nutrition and Hydration
For the first time in 200 years, children may have a shorter life expectancy than that of their parents. Why is this? One reason is childhood obesity. Children are eating too much sugar and high caloric foods while spending less time outside being active. Being conscious of the potential dangers of such a lifestyle, parents should encourage their children to eat a balanced and nutritious meal, drink plenty of water instead of carbonated and sugary beverages, and limit their screen time (whether that is in front of a TV, smartphone, or computer).
It isn’t as simple as telling a child to eat his broccoli though, is it? What parents must remember is that our children pay attention to what we do more than what we say. By modeling healthy diet and exercise habits to your children, you’re setting the example of what is acceptable and appropriate behavior. If you’re chugging Dr. Peppers and addicted to staring at your phone in front of your children all evening long, then your son or daughter probably isn’t going to take you seriously when you try to give them a bottle of water and limit their amount of screen time.
Increase Physical Activity
We know now that we need to encourage our kids to have healthier eating habits and discourage time spent sitting around in front of a TV or phone. But did you know that encouraging exercise does much more than help us maintain a healthy weight?
In a study done at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. Exercise helps both memory and thinking through different means. The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to “reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells” (Harvard Health Blog). Exercise also improves mood and encourages better sleeping while also reducing stress and anxiety levels. As a parent, you know that your child’s mood directly affects his behavior and his ability to focus and learn. Exercise is a natural mood enhancer.
Take advantage of the rest of this summer to get into more brain-healthy habits with your children. You can take them with you to the numerous farmer’s markets that are open and have them participate in picking out the nutritious ingredients for your meals. Maybe you can find a local swimming pool and spend time swimming instead of staying inside and watching a movie. Even a good old fashioned game of tag in the backyard is sure to get the blood flowing for both parents and children! Come the start of school in the fall, these new habits will ensure your children are ready to reach their full learning potential.