Physical exercise can boost the vocabulary of children, according to a new study that throws light on the way clinicians, caregivers and educators should adapt to promoting exercise among the kids. The study by University of Delaware published in the Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research, claims to be one of the first studies on the effect of exercise on vocabulary learning in kids.
A total of 48 children between the ages of 6 and 12 years participated in the study. Training of words took place in a resting and in an exercise condition using a within-subject design. In the resting measure, children were taught names of novel objects and then coloured for three minutes before tested on their ability to recognize the words. In the exercise condition, the same steps were followed, but instead of coloring, children engaged in three minutes of aerobic exercise (swimming) or anaerobic exercise (a CrossFit-like workout).
The study found that the children who swam were 13 per cent more accurate in follow up tests of the vocabulary words. Lead researcher Maddy Pruitt, who is herself a former college swimmer, points out that motor movement helps in encoding new words. The study notes that exercise increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein that Pruitt describes as the “Miracle-Gro of the brain.” On swimming making a difference while CrossFit not, Pruitt says it was because of the level of energy the brain demands in each exercise, “Swimming is an activity the kids could complete without much thought or instruction. It was more automatic, while the CrossFit exercises were new to them. The children needed to learn the moves, which required mental energy,” she said.
Pruitt now works as a speech language pathologist at an elementary school in South Carolina, where she puts her findings into practice.