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Researchers from the University of Delaware have discovered that exercise could help build the vocabulary of children. This study is one of the first to look at exercise’s effect on language learning in children.

Previous studies have shown that brain activity increases after exercise leading to an improved memory of words in adults. The research aimed to determine if exercise could also have the same effect on children learning new words.

How researchers conducted the study

The researchers gathered 48 children 6-12 years old in the first experiment and 24 in the second. They were split into three groups, taught new words, then given different activities immediately after. The first group filled a coloring book, the second went swimming, and the third did CrossFit exercises. 

The results showed that the children benefited the same way as adults from exercise. Those who had gone swimming performed 13% better in vocabulary tests than the rest.

According to Maddy Pruitt, the lead researcher and a speech-language pathologist in an elementary school in South Carolina, motor movement helps children encode new words. Exercise increases the levels of a neurotrophic factor in the brain. Pruitt conducted the study as part of her Master’s project.

Swimming worked better than CrossFit in helping children learn new words

Scientists also concluded that swimming worked better than CrossFit as it is more automatic and requires significantly less mental energy, while CrossFit involves attention to detail. For this experiment, the children had to learn to do CrossFit, which made it more of a mental effort to perform. The children who were asked to swim, however, already knew how to do I; hence the process was more automatic.

Giovanna Morini, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and a study co-author, continues to research the topic. Morini points out that most research on exercise looks at its physical benefits but fails to investigate its role in language acquisition.

Giovanna adds that clinicians, educators and caregivers can use the study to help children learn a language better. Pruitt tries to put her study into practice in the elementary school she teaches. She states that most of her sessions are on the playground to make learning easier for the children.