During July, we’ve been sharing many of the surprising benefits of recreation in recognition of Recreation Month, these include: fighting obesity and managing weight; reducing risk of Type II diabetes, some cancers and other life-threatening diseases; strengthening families ties; aiding youth development; delaying signs of aging; helping veteran’s recover from physical disabilities acquired in combat; and building community. But none of the benefits is more important – and perhaps surprising – than the link between recreation and brain health.
Recreational activities are generally acknowledged for helping youth learn how to negotiate with peers, resolve conflict, and work together for communal goals. Through recreation, youth can also develop relationships with non-parents who may serve as important mentors or role models. These relationships are often central to helping youth develop into healthy adults.
And, research shows recreation can help youth brain development.
The development of the brain’s executive functioning skills lags behind others, creating a mismatch that explains to some degree why youth often make poor judgments in emotionally charged situations, and why they are prone to risk behaviors with peers.
Studies show that when youth participate in recreation programs, they develop skills and have experiences that contribute to future decision making. This process of ‘experiential learning’ helps adolescents learn to make good decisions and participate in activities that will help them transition more successfully to adulthood.
Moreover, research suggests that regular physical activity and vigorous play among youth can actually boost brain activity and contribute to academic achievement. In his book, “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain,” John Rately (2008) suggests that exercise and physical activity helps brain cells grow, change, and work together, promoting memory retention and learning.
The effect of recreation on the adult brain is equally significant: it can grow brain cells.
Research suggests that exercise increases the production of brain growth factors that stimulate the creation and survival of brain cells, and promote the development of connections among cells in response to new information. Both processes are linked to increases in gray matter volume, a measure of brain health.
This study’s findings add to evidence that regular exercise increases the ability to deal with stress and improves cognitive functioning.
“The beneficial effects of exercise on overall brain health and functioning may be greater if physical activity occurs earlier in life and continues into older age,” says Dr. Sylvia. “But even after middle age, beginning a regular exercise routine is productive.”
She added, “Higher levels of exercise result in the greatest cognitive improvements, but we also know that moderate level – 30 minutes per day of moderate-intensity exercise, five days per week – are associated with very good improvements in brain health. Breaking up the 30-minutes up into five chunks throughout the day is also effective – workouts don’t have to be overly strenuous.9
And now you know why We Love Recreation!
Look to Eugene Recreation for an activity you’ll enjoy, will look forward to doing for the long term and will provide you and your family members all of the wonderful - if surprising - benefits of recreation.
Eugene Recreation: Building bodies and brains while having fun playing games.