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How to Grow a Better Brain

Tween doing cartwheelsWant to be sharp enough to whip your best friend at the latest video game? Wish you could ignore your little brother long enough to get your homework done? Hoping to raise your grade in math?

Well, guess what? Exercise may be just the ticket. Moving around, also called physical activity, builds more than just bodies. It builds better brains, too.

The best kind of exercise for a kid's brain is the kind that makes you breathe hard, gets your heart pumping, and maybe even makes you sweat. It's called aerobic exercise. And you don't have to be in gym class to do it. Playing outside after school, in-line skating, and even dancing can count as this type of exercise.

How Exercise Helps You Learn

How does exercise help you learn? For starters, it gets blood, oxygen, and other "brain food" to your brain. Exercise also helps your body make more of the natural chemicals that help brain cells grow and survive. And it may simply perk up your brain. These things may help you learn and do better in school (or even outsmart your brother).

If you exercise and are healthy, you're more likely to:

  • Do better on tests
  • Stay focused and pay more attention
  • Give the right answers to questions in class
  • Remember a math problem long enough to write it on the board
  • Set and reach your goals
  • Get better grades

Scientists have taken pictures of kids' brains and seen the effects of exercise with their own eyes! Kids who are healthier have bigger brains. Well, at least parts of their brains get bigger with more exercise -- the parts that may make you smarter.

So this is a good time to get moving -- when your brain is still growing. But it's great to know that exercise can also help your brain throughout your whole life, no matter how old you get.

Smart Moves for Your Brain

Studying hard is important, but here are some active things to try to give your brain an extra boost:

Jump-start your brain. Got a test coming up? Try race-walking around the playground with your friends at recess before you pick up your pencil. Even a short burst of aerobic activity can help. Kids have found that walking fast for just 20 minutes before a reading test can help improve scores.

Having trouble staying focused on homework? See how many times you can jump rope in five minutes. Movement like this may even help you memorize things. Call out your math facts with each jump. Then go back to your homework. You may find that taking a break helps you get your homework done faster!

Find something fun. Not into sports? That's OK. Pick activities you like. Just find something that gets your heart pumping harder than usual for at least 30 minutes, several times a week. That's only the length of one TV show. Maybe you can play tag, shovel the sidewalk, ride your bike, or take a gymnastics or dance class. These are great options for getting the brain juices flowing. What about playing video games? While games aren't the same as other exercise, playing games that make you get up and move are better than nothing. Just pick active games like tennis or skiing where you're really moving around.