A new study from the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reveals that 9- and 10-year-old children who are aerobically fit tend to have significantly thinner gray matter in the cerebrum than their “low-fit” peers. Interestingly, thinning of the outermost layer of brain cells in the cerebrum is associated with better math skills, according to the researchers.

The August 2015 study, “The Role of Aerobic Fitness in Cortical Thickness and Mathematics Achievement in Preadolescent Children,” appears in the journal PLOS ONE.

The new study finds a correlation—but not direct causation—between cardiorespiratory fitness and cortical gray matter thinning in the cerebrum. Thinning of gray matter is also known as “neural pruning,” which is an important aspect of neuroplasticity during brain development and throughout a person’s lifespan.

This study also offers the first direct evidence that fitness improves arithmetic performance on standardized tests by aiding the development of brain structures that contribute to mathematics achievement. Again, the scientists emphasize that they have identified a correlation, but more research is needed to identify a causal relationship.

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