Exercise and Executive Function: Move to Improve!

Parent and child stretching before exercising

As parents and teachers, we all want to help children develop their cognitive abilities, and research suggests that physical activity can play an essential role in improving executive function in children.

Studies have shown (link opens in new tab/window)↗ that regular physical activity positively impacts executive function in children. Exercise prepares the brain to expand and learn; getting our heart rate up can help us grow more neurons and make new connections. When children engage in physical activities, such as running, jumping, and playing games, their brains release endorphins, which promote cognitive flexibility and attention.

Brain Boost

Moreover, physical activity stimulates the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus, the region of the brain responsible for memory and learning. This means that children who engage in regular physical activity have better cognitive skills, including better memory and attention.

Social and Emotional Benefits

Physical activity can also improve social-emotional skills, which are closely linked to executive function. By participating in sports and other physical activities, children learn teamwork, self-control, and resilience, all of which contribute to their overall social-emotional development.

Movement Breaks

So, what can parents and teachers do to promote physical activity in children? One option is to incorporate movement breaks into the school day, giving students a chance to stretch, move, and re-energize. Encouraging physical activity outside of school, such as participating in team sports or simply playing outside, can also have a positive impact on executive function skills.

Whether it’s in the classroom or out on the playing field, regular physical activity can significantly improve executive function skills in children. By promoting physical activity, parents and teachers can help children develop the cognitive and social-emotional skills they need to succeed.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org