Want to help your child be healthier, happier and, believe it or not, smarter? It doesn’t mean imposing more studying time on your wee one. It’s all about eating right and putting more play in the day.
“New research is showing there’s a connection between physical fitness and brain fitness,” said K. Randal Pearson, M.D., pediatrician with Norton Children’s Hospital Medical Associates – Brownsboro. “While that doesn’t necessarily mean that being an athlete will make a child smarter, there is evidence moving in that direction.”
A higher level of physical fitness is connected to better attention, memory and academic skills, according to a 2014 study by the University of Illinois Department of Psychology. Other studies support that fit kids have better language skills and do better on standardized tests for math and reading.
“While this research studied white matter in the brain and not thinking skills, it only makes sense that having an outlet for the body to release energy will help a child be able to focus on tasks like schoolwork,” Dr. Pearson said.
House rules for raising kids to their full potential
Start in the kitchen
Cut out the sugary beverages and get your kids drinking more water. There’s no magic amount of water kids should drink, but in addition to milk it should be their main drink for meals, before and after activities, and when they are thirsty.
Tip: Try frozen fruit instead of ice cubes to add flavor and fun to a glass of water. Let your child pick out a reusable water bottle for when they’re out playing or exercising.
Next, add more fruits and vegetables to your child’s plate. Kids should eat at least 5 servings a day, ideally 2 servings of fruit and 3 servings of veggies (a serving is usually about ½ cup).
Tip: Create a fruit and veggie calendar for kids to track what they’re eating. At the end of the month, give a reward for the most servings eaten — maybe a special fruit dessert pizza decorated by the kids.
“There’s a link between eating right and brainpower,” Dr. Pearson said. “You can feed a developing mind with vitamins and nutrients found in fruits, vegetables and lean meats. And breakfast is especially important for kids. Their bodies need a blood sugar boost in the morning to fuel up, but that doesn’t mean giving them sugary cereal. Try a slow-burning carbohydrate like oatmeal.”
Move to the rec room
Limit screen time to 1 hour a day, or 1 hour for every 1 hour of activity — that means time spent watching TV, on the computer or tablet (not doing schoolwork), and playing video games.
Tip: This is easier to enforce if the whole family participates. It’s a great reason to dust off the board games, puzzles, cards and books, and spend some quality family time together. Or consider starting a family vegetable garden. It needs daily tending, and there are tasks for every age group. Plus, kids will love to see how their care and work pay off as plants grow and then can be eaten!
Now get outside
The last house rule is about getting out of the house for some physical activity. Kids should get at least 1 hour a day of some type of exercise or physical activity. Your child doesn’t need to play sports to get in enough physical activity. There are lots of ways to be active and get exercise in the backyard, a local park, activity center, after-school group or simply during planned “play dates” with friends. And it’s never too early to start.
“Kids who are active at a young age tend to stay active later in life — and have a lower risk of becoming obese or developing heart disease,” Dr. Pearson said. “Parents should join in as much as possible. Not only will all of you enjoy the time spent together, but your child will benefit from the example you set. Plus, adults reap the same health benefits from exercise as kids.”
Want to learn more about keeping kids mentally and physically healthy? Check out the Play Smart Eat Right program presented by Norton Children’s Hospital and U of L Head Coach Bobby Petrino.