Playing sports can boost emotional and cognitive health

Tel Aviv University researchers have statistical evidence that participation in sports is good for child’s cognitive, emotional, behavioral well-being.

Shahar Pe'er 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Shahar Pe'er 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
We all know that exercise is highly beneficial, improving physical health. But now Tel Aviv University researchers have statistical evidence that participation in sports is also good for a child’s cognitive, emotional and behavioral well-being. However, it is much more relevant to boys than girls, who had a much weaker response to sports programming than their male classmates. Statistically, there was little change in the female population, apparently because girls do not often suffer from the same aggression problems as boys.
Keren Shahar, a doctoral student at TAU’s Bob Shapell School of Social Work, working under the supervision of Prof.
Tammie Ronen and Prof. Michael Rosenbaum, says that over the course of her study – which included 649 children from low socioeconomic backgrounds – a continuous program of various sports helped improve self-control and discipline, and lowered feelings of aggression. Her research was presented recently at a conference of TAU’s Renata Adler Memorial Research Center for Child Welfare and Protection.
“We set out to determine whether sports training would have a positive impact on these children, and how this result can be achieved,” explains Shahar. It would be more effective than verbal therapy, she says, because while verbal therapy encourages children to control their behavior, it does not reduce negative emotions. The introduction of sport, however, is able to reduce aggressive behavior.
In 25 schools around the country, Shahar and her fellow researchers analyzed a 24- week after-school program based on sports. Half the participants comprised a control group who did not receive sports instruction, and the other half were systematically introduced to a variety of sports for five hours a week. Three times a week, students ranging from grades three to six played group sports. Twice a week, they participated in martial arts, including judo and karate.
After 24 weeks, Shahar compared questionnaires and evaluations executed at the beginning of the program with the same tests administered at the end. Her results demonstrated an improvement in traits relating to participants’ self-control, such as self-observation, problem-solving skills and delayed gratification – which ultimately led to a decrease in the incidence of aggression. Only those children who exhibited higher levels of self-control also demonstrated the decline in aggression.
The key is to introduce children to something they love to do, and in which they have a compelling interest, concluded Shahar. “Find something that motivates them,” she counsels. A strong connection with any activity gives children a sense of purpose and decreases the likelihood that they will “act out” their behavioral problems.
LIFE SAVED BY SERENDIPITY A 60-year-old man was saved from death by undergoing plastic surgery to raise his eyelids – but not by the operation itself. A recent newsletter from Rambam Medical Center in Haifa reported this amazing fact.
The man had the operation for esthetic reasons, and returned to the hospital for a checkup a week later. But at the entrance to the clinic, the man – who suffers from chronic heart and vascular problems – collapsed and suffered clinical death. For 45 minutes, plastic surgeons headed by director Prof. Yehuda Ullman worked furiously to resuscitate him. They actually succeeded, with no brain damage. The patient underwent a coronary bypass operation and after a few days was discharged home, where his family – including three children (the youngest is 10) and five grandchildren welcomed him.
IS VITAMIN D INSUFFICIENCY TO BLAME? Although hypotheses on what caused the death of famous personalities hundreds of years ago are impossible to prove, they are intriguing, and many researchers can’t help but write about them. In the latest one, Dr. William Grant and Dr. Stefan Pilz of the Sunlight, Nutrition and Health Research Center of San Francisco speculate on what did in Mozart and Gustav Mahler.
Mozart reportedly suffered from many infectious illnesses including fever, sore throat and bad colds from 1762 to 1791, when he died at only 35. Most of these illnesses occurred between mid-October and May, the California researchers note.
At the latitude of Salzburg and Vienna, it is impossible to make vitamin D from solar ultraviolet-B radiation for more than half the year. Mahler, who died exactly a century ago, was raised in what became the Czech Republic. He developed a sore throat while working in New York with the Philharmonic Orchestra, and was subsequently diagnosed with bacterial endocarditis. He died at 41.
A modern-day musician whose death at 42 was documented as resulting from a vitamin D-deficiency was Jacqueline Mary du Pré, the British cellist acknowledged as one of the greatest players of the instrument. Du Pré, married to Israeli pianist Daniel Barenboim, was forced by multiple sclerosis to halt her career.
Vitamin D advocates note that there is a growing body of research from geographic, observational and randomized controlled trial studies suggesting vitamin D may reduce the risk of numerous diseases, including many types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, neurological and neuromuscular diseases, in addition to bone diseases such as rickets and osteoporosis.