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Teens who consistently exercise may have better brain function

Staying active is a great way for teens to maintain optimal brain health

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Photo (c) Boy_Anupong - Getty Images
Earlier studies have identified the ways that regular exercise can benefit older consumers’ brain health and cognitive function. Now, experts from Boston Children’s Hospital are exploring the brain benefits teens can gain from consistently engaging in physical activity

According to their findings, teens that exercise on a regular basis are more likely to have better brain function. 

“It didn’t matter what kind of physical activity children were involved in -- it only mattered that they were active,” said researcher Caterina Stamoulis, Ph.D. “Being active multiple times per week for at least 60 minutes had a widespread positive effect on brain circuitry.” 

The benefits of being active

To understand the brain benefits related to teens’ exercise habits, the researchers analyzed data from nearly 6,000 adolescents enrolled in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. The team tracked the participants’ physical activity, analyzed MRI scans of their brains, and evaluated their body mass indices (BMIs). 

Ultimately, the researchers learned that physical activity was associated with better brain function. They focused on the brain connectome, which is a diagram of the organ’s internal connections. Teens that were exercising regularly had MRIs that showed the strongest brain function, including a better ability for the brain to organize. This indicates that each section of the brain is communicating efficiently with each other. 

“This organization optimizes the efficiency of information processing and transmission, which is still developing in adolescence and can be altered by a number of risk factors,” said Dr. Stamoulis. “Our results suggest that physical activity has a protective effect on this optimization process across brain regions.” 

The researchers hope these findings serve as another resource for parents who want to encourage their kids to become more physically active. Exercise is an important component of an overall healthy lifestyle, and keeping kids active can have benefits on their brain health at a pivotal developmental age. 

“Early adolescence is a very important time in brain development,” said Dr. Stamoulis. “It’s associated with a lot of changes in the brain’s functional circuits, particularly those supporting higher-level processes like decision-making and executive control. Abnormal changes in these areas can lead to risk behaviors and deficits in cognitive function that can follow people through their lifetime.” 

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