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Study: Exercise improves kids' brains

New research has found that exercise may benefit children not only physically, but mentally as well.

A study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, found that aerobic exercise has "a positive role in brain and cognitive health of children." Children who are in better shape, the study found, have more healthy white matter in their brains than children in worse shape. White matter is linked to memory and attention skills, which are critical in child development.

The study, led by Laura Chaddock-Heyman, is the first study to determine a link between physical activity and white matter in children, Time reports. "It's possible that white matter differences as a function of fitness are driving the cognitive differences we see in the brain," Chaddock-Heyman said in a statement. However, her team is still looking into the connection between white matter and things like school grades or IQ. The research team is conducting a new five-year trial tracking white matter and physical exercise in children.

Whatever the outcome of the new research, Chaddock-Heyman hopes the study will inspire parents and caregivers to encourage children to exercise more. "More schools are contributing to our more sedentary lifestyle by eliminating or reducing physical activity during the school day, and we know that aerobic fitness is related to the size of brain structures as well as their function," she said in a statement. "We are hoping our work encourages more support of physically active lifestyles."