“For decades we’ve talked about how physical activity improves heart health, helps maintain healthy body weights, and builds strong bones and muscles in kids,” said Dr. Mark Tremblay, Chief Scientific Officer, ParticipACTION Report Card and Director of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute’s Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group (CHEO-HALO). “This year we wanted to dig deeper into what it does for their most complex organ – their brain. From increased cognitive skills to improved mental health, physical activity has profound impacts on kids’ brain health. Yet, we now know that many Canadian children and youth are missing out on these benefits because of a lack of physical activity. So, for their brains’ sake, it’s time to get kids sitting less and moving more.”
The 2018 ParticipACTION Report Card was released in concert for the first time with an evidence-informed Expert Statement on Physical Activity and Brain Health in Children and Youth. The Expert Statement was developed by a team of pediatric neuroscientists, exercise scientists, clinicians and practitioners. It finds that for better brain health – including cognition, brain function and mental health – all children and youth should be physically active on a regular basis.
“Regular physical activity, even in short bursts, can help kids’ brains on many levels,” said Dr. Tremblay. “Kids who are more active have increased self-esteem and are generally more focused and less stressed compared to their less active peers. For example, students who exercise before a test show stronger brain function than those who don’t. Furthermore, kids with brain-based disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorder or ADHD, may experience even greater improvements in learning and thinking as a result of regular physical activity.”
The lowest grades in this year’s Report Card are a D+ for Overall Physical Activity, D for Sedentary Behaviours and F for the 24-Hour Movement Behaviours. Despite common knowledge of the health benefits of kids moving more, turning away from screens, getting off the couch and breaking a sweat, most of them aren’t, but now they have another pressing reason to do so – for their brain health.
“In order to help support the development of strong, healthy brains we need to encourage kids to get enough daily heart-pumping physical activity,” said Elio Antunes, President and CEO, ParticipACTION. “Research shows that active kids perform better in school and are generally happier. We need to be active role models and set kids up to succeed. I understand that modern life can get in the way of making the time to get active, but I encourage all families to try. And, get outdoors more because it is a powerful antidote for kids facing stress.”
Other grades assigned in the Report Card include:
- “D” for Active Play & Leisure Activities
- “D-” for Active Transportation
- “B” for Organized Sport Participation
- “C-” for Physical Education
- “B+” for Sleep
- “D+” for Physical Literacy
- “D” for Physical Fitness
- “C+” for Family & Peers
- “B-” for School
- “B+” for Community & Environment
- “C+” for Government
Recommendations on how to increase opportunities for physical activity and improve kids’ brain health, including those with brain-based disabilities, can be found within the Expert Statement.
To download the 2018 ParticipACTION Report Card Highlight Report, including the Expert Statement, or Full Report, please visit ParticipACTION.