London: Physical fitness in children may increase the volume of grey matter in specific brain regions, which in turn can improve their academic performance.
In particular, aerobic capacity is associated with greater grey matter volume in regions important for the executive function as well as for learning, motor and visual processes.
The study, published in the journal NeuroImage, involved over 100 overweight children.
"Our work aims at answering questions such as whether the brain of children with better physical fitness is different from that of children with worse physical fitness and if this affects their academic performance," said Francisco B Ortega, from University of Granada in Spain.
"Physical fitness in children is linked in a direct way to important brain structure differences, and such differences are reflected in the children's academic performance," said Ortega, who led the study.
The research associates motor ability with higher grey matter volume in two regions essential for language processing and reading: the inferior frontal gyrus and the superior temporal gyrus.
However, muscular strength did not show any independent association with gray matter volume in any brain region.
The grey matter volume in the cortical and subcortical regions influenced by physical fitness improves in turn the children's academic performance, said Irene Esteban-Cornejo, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Granada.
Moreover, "physical fitness is a factor that can be modified through physical exercise, and combining exercises that improve the aerobic capacity and the motor ability would be an effective approach to stimulate brain development and academic performance in overweight/obese children," said Esteban-Cornejo.