Aerobic Fitness Levels Linked to Blood Flow to the Brain

Science or Superstition?

Do you remember when your parents had you run because it helped you focus before you study? How about exercising to relieve stress? What you may have thought was silly superstition actually has scientific basis. A recent study has linked higher aerobic fitness in children to greater blood flow in the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for memory, emotion, and cognition.  Past studies have also linked participation in physical activity and higher levels of aerobic fitness to better grades in school, and better memory in children.

The goal of this study, led by Laura Chaddock-Heyman, was to prove or disprove their hypothesis that cerebral blood flow in the hippocampus relates to aerobic fitness levels in children. To test their theory, the researchers measured the fitness levels of 73 preadolescent children aged 7 – 9 by assessing their maximal oxygen consumption during a graded exercise test.  They then measured blood flow to the brain using a series of MRIs, finding that higher aerobic fitness levels predicted greater cerebral blood flow in the hippocampus, which means that aerobic fitness can play a role in the formation of blood vessels in the hippocampus during a critical part of brain development.

This aligns with many other studies that continue to show numerous mental health and developmental benefits of exercise and physical fitness at a young age. Researchers have also seen the same results in similar studies of adults and elderly people, as well as animals. It’s important to keep these findings in mind when considering how your child spends their free time. Since less and less is time being allotted to physical activity and physical education in schools, parents should be aware of other ways to make sure their children get the exercise they need.

You can scroll through the full study below.