In early December of 2016, my travels took me to London, one of my favorite cities in the world. I was there to speak at a conference called Excellence in Pediatrics. This is an annual conference dedicated to improving the health of children around the world. I have lectured at this meeting before, which always draws an international audience, and this year attendees came from close to 80 different countries from all over the world. So it was interesting for me to see how physicians from different countries are dealing with the same basic issues that are adversely affecting global health – namely physical inactivity and poor diet.
At the conference I took part in a fascinating session on adolescent health, with a focus on why kids today are so sedentary and what we can do to get them more active. In this session, I focused on the effect that being sedentary has on mental health and academic performance in teens. It is amazing how much better kids do in school when they are active and how much less likely they are to suffer from anxiety and depression. Active kids are also much less likely to act out in school and get into trouble.
As I have said before, I believe the most powerful effect of exercise is on the brain and that goes for kids, as well as adults. We know that exercise causes the release of a substance called Brained Derived Neurotropic Factor (or BDNF) that seems to act like ‘Miracle Grow’ for the brain tissue. We actually see important areas of the brain grow faster in kids doing regular exercise. This likely explains why kids who are physically fit score better on standardized tests and are more likely to go on to college. In fact, data from the department of education in California shows a direct correlation between the fitness level in kids and their scores on yearly standardized achievement tests (SAT-9 test).
So this is why I think it is so important to do all we can to see that no child is left behind when it comes to being physically active. Sure the academic classes like reading and math are important, but the only thing we have found that actually causes the brain to visibly grow (as viewed by an MRI scan) is exercise. Therefore it makes no sense that most kids today are not required to have regular PE classes in school or to simply get out every day for a brisk walk. That is something we should all agree needs to be changed.
While in London, I got to catch up with several good friends and do a lot of walking. Of course, London is a very walkable city thanks to its remarkable system of public transportation. I particularly enjoyed some great walks around Buckingham Palace and St. James Park, which were right around the corner from my hotel. A highlight of my trip was going to an Arsenal Football (known as soccer in the US! J) game in beautiful Emirates Stadium.
I hope this blog finds you healthy and being active every day – and of course, also encouraging your kids to be active as well.
Keep walking my friends!
Featured photo credit: Walking with Dr. Zoe Williams