Does fitness affect children's mental capacity?

I've written multiple articles in the past on the relationship between physical fitness and mental performance.

In fact, well back in 2013, I wrote an article discussing research which demonstrated that for children under the age of 10: those who are physically active clearly out-perform the inactive ones when it comes to mental/cognitive tasks "at school".

I'm writing about this subject once again because of recent research I came across which looked at the effect of physical fitness on "attention ability" for adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15.

In this massive study which covered 444 kids across 6 different European countries, they tested the children's physical fitness, including cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength, BMI and fat % against their ability to "focus" (attention test).

The results were clear: the fitter the child, the stronger his/her ability to mentally focus on whatever task he/she is engaging in.

What was even most interesting was that "fitness has a stronger impact than fatness". In other words:

  • The best performers in the attention test were the fit and not overweight
  • The worst performers in the attention test were the "not fit" and "overweight"
  • BUT: having good cardiovascular fitness "partially" reduced the impact of being overweight

This is not the first study to show this, and it makes me feel really bad when I see overweight children at the supermarket, walking along with their parents and a trolly full of sugary and high carbohydrate foods.

If you're reading this, I hope this research makes a difference.