A new study has highlighted three key factors that can affect our children’s cognitive abilities. The pre-adolescent and adolescent years are the most critical times for a child’s brain development. Now, experts are recommending three actions that could have a significant effect.
1Do at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day
Being active doesn’t just contribute to physical fitness and stamina – it stimulates brain growth too. It helps kids to focus and can make it easier for them to learn. Studies have shown that when faced with cognitive tests, children with higher aerobic fitness perform better. They also have enhanced long-term retention. Even taking some exercise just before a test can make a difference.
2Have less than 2 hours of recreational screen time per day
Staring at a screen on a laptop, tablet or phone stimulates and distracts our brains. It takes time for the mind to wind down afterward. This impacts both the amount and quality of sleep. Blue light from backlit screens has also been shown to adversely affect sleep patterns. Also, too much screen time means less time for kids to be active. Consequently, they will be less physically fit and more prone to conditions such as obesity. They’ll also miss out on opportunities to develop physical and social skills.
3Get 9-11 hours of sleep per night
Getting enough sleep is vital. This is especially true for children in the full flow of growth and development. Good sleep habits boost everything from physical development to health and immune systems. It also increases kids’ attention spans and capacity for learning. A good night’s sleep is especially important when the adolescent brain is developing.
“Childhood and adolescence are crucial periods for brain development and behaviours during a typical 24-hour period contribute to cognitive performance,” say the authors of the report, which was published in The Lancet.
“The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth recommends at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day, two hours or less recreational screen time per day, and nine to 11 hours’ sleep per night in children aged eight to 11. We investigated the relationship between adherence to these recommendations and global cognition.”
The research looked at data taken from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study. The participants, 4,524 children, aged eight to 11 in the United States, came from a cross-section of society in 21 different locations. The investigation analysed how following the recommendations at different levels affected brain development and cognitive abilities.
In total, 51% of those involved met the sleep recommendation. 37% followed the guideline for screen time, and 18% the one for physical activity.
“At least 3,190 – 71% – of participants met at least one recommendation whereas 5% met all three,” reported the authors.
Their findings showed cognitive abilities were enhanced with each additional recommendation met. Compared with participants who followed none of the advised limits, superior cognition was found in those who adhered to the screen-time guideline only. It was greater still in those who followed both the screen time and sleep recommendations. The most significant difference was found in those who followed all three.
“These findings highlight the importance of limiting recreational screen time and encouraging healthy sleep to improve cognition in children,” said the authors.
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