The brain-body connection: Study reveals that boys with good motor skills are also great at problem-solving

Here is another reason to get your son or young brother to take up physical activities that train up their muscles. A recent Finnish study compared the cognitive functions of children with different levels of motor skills. The experiment found that the more a boy exercised his muscles, the better he is at solving a problem with his mind.

The researchers also discovered that the cognitive function in young male children was not connected with the level of their aerobic fitness. Neither was it associated with excessive weight and obesity. These additional findings ran counter to the results of earlier studies that covered similar topics.

Their study was supported by the University of Eastern Finland (UEF) and published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. It drew its data from the Physical Activity and Nutrition in Children (PANIC), a long-running research project that covered various aspects of children’s health.

Many children are currently afflicted with being overweight and obesity. PANIC targets these children and determines how those two health conditions affect their young minds, developing bodies, and overall health. (Related: Children exposed to air pollution on their way to school have stunted cognitive development and memory problems, study finds.)

Motor skills and problem-solving skills in boys appear to be linked

In the experiment, the UEF researchers examined how the cognition of children was linked to their motor skills, aerobic fitness, and body fat percentage. Their study group was made up of 188 boys and 183 girls ranging from six to nine years old at the start of the trial.

The researchers conducted a follow-up period two years after the original cross-sectional study. They reported that the boys who demonstrated good motor skills at the beginning of the study scored higher at problem-solving tests over the course of those years. Conversely, those who were lacking in motor skills got much lower grades than their more physically active peers.

The participating children showed various levels of aerobic fitness. They also possessed different percentages of fat in their body.

Despite these variances in cardiovascular health and obesity levels, the subjects did not display different levels of cognition. Instead, the boys who displayed better aerobic health at the start of the study appeared to have inferior cognition during the follow-up period. At the same time, the less-fit boys seemed to display better cognition.

Last but not least, the researchers compared the increase in cognitive skills between boys with different motor skills. They noted that boys with weaker motor skills achieved bigger improvements in their cognitive skills, which seemed to suggest they can catch up to their peers.

Neither obesity nor aerobic fitness affect the cognition of kids

“It is important to remember that these results do not necessarily reflect a causal relation between motor skills and cognition,” explained UEF researcher Eero Haapala, the lead author of the report. “Boys with poorer motor and cognitive skills at baseline caught up with their more skilful [sic] peers during the two-year follow-up.”

The study also tested girls. However, neither motor skills, aerobic fitness, nor body fat percentage seemed to be connected with cognitive skills in female children. The EUF researchers are unsure of the specific reason, but guess that it might be either biological or sociocultural distinctions between male and female children.

Based on the results of the study, it could be surmised that there is a connection between cognition and motor skills in boys. Furthermore, it did not seem like aerobic fitness, obesity, or weight affected the cognition of either boys or girls.

Haapala elaborated that it was too early to say that motor skills directly improved cognition. Further trials will be required.

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