An MRI of a human brain at the Museum of Neuroanatomy in Buffalo, N.Y. Dr. Majid Fotuhi says studies show that exercise improves brain function in learning.  (AP/David Duprey)

An MRI of a human brain at the Museum of Neuroanatomy in Buffalo, N.Y. Dr. Majid Fotuhi says studies show that exercise improves brain function in learning. (AP/David Duprey)

The curriculum at the South Lawrence 5th Grade Academy is based in part on the notion that exercise improves brain function and stimulates learning. According to Dr. Majid Fotuhi, the Chairman of the Neurology Institute for Brain Health and Fitness in Baltimore, studies support the idea that exercise can improve learning efficiency for children.

“There’s a great deal of data that show better fitness is associated with better brain function,” Fotuhi said. “There have been some studies that show that at least one hour of exercise is good for improved learning, but much of the data is associated with kids who are in good physical shape and kids who function well.”

Fotuhi said three things occur in the brain of an exercising child: increased blood flow, increased levels of a protein called BDNF, and increased neurogenesis.

“It’s so exciting,” Fotuhi told Bill on this week’s Only A Game.  ”There are actual new cells that are born in the memory parts of your brain.  Literally, new cells are born, this has been shown in animal studies.  So exercise is the best thing for [the] brain, especially for the memory part of the brain.”

Though no study prescribes a perfect amount of exercise, Fotuhi offers guidelines to parents and educators.

“My recommendation would be at least one hour a day for children who are 6-12 and for high school kids, two hours a day,” Fotuhi said. “I am also in favor of shorter teaching sessions which are intermittent with 20 minutes of P.E. or some kind of physical activity that’s somewhat structured.”

Fotuhi also said that exercise isn’t the only contributor to a healthy brain.

“Fitness is just more than two hours of exercise.  Fitness also includes a good diet and being careful of the kind of nutrition a person receives,” he said. “Childhood obesity is such a big problem in our country that we need to make that the highest priority matter for public health issues. I think that we should start educating our children from age 5 that they really need to work on having a fit body because the best guarantee for having a sharp brain in your fifties, sixties and eighties is to have a strong body when you’re a kid.”