Does exercise improve children’s cognitive performance?

Research published in Frontiers in Psychology looks at the effects of a nine-week programme of daily exercise on children’s cognitive performance, aerobic fitness and physical activity levels.

Vera van den Berg and colleagues conducted a cluster randomised controlled trial in 21 classes in eight Dutch primary schools. A total of 512 children aged 9 to 12 participated. The intervention consisted of daily classroom-based exercise breaks of moderate to vigorous intensity. Each break lasted approximately ten minutes, and children were asked to mimic dance moves from a video. Children in the control group watched 10- to 15-minute information and educational videos related to the body, exercise and sports.

Before and after the intervention, children were asked to perform four cognitive tasks to measure their cognitive performance in selective attention, inhibition and memory retrieval. Children’s aerobic fitness was measured with a shuttle run test, and accelerometers were used to measure physical activity throughout the day.

At the end of the nine weeks, the exercise intervention had no effect on children’s cognitive performance or aerobic fitness. Children in the intervention group spent 2.9 minutes more of the school day involved in moderate to vigorous physical activity compared to the children in the control group. The study concludes that daily exercise breaks can be implemented in the classroom in order to promote physical activity during school time, but don’t improve children’s cognitive performance.

Source: Improving cognitive performance of 9-12 years old children: Just Dance? A randomized controlled trial (February 2019), Frontiers in Psychology 10:174

FITKids programme benefits body and mind

Results of a randomised study that compared pupils who attended FITKids (a daily after-school fitness programme) to those who did not showed benefits for the FITKids group in attention, memory, and task-switching.

The study involved 221 eight- to nine-year olds matched by age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and aerobic fitness during the school years 2009-2013. The experimental groups participated in the FITKids programme for two hours a day after school for nine months. Each day they spent 30 minutes at activity stations, followed by a rest/education period then about 45 minutes of organised games. The control groups were put on a waiting list for the FITKids programme.

All groups were pre- and post-tested on fitness and cognitive measures. Both groups demonstrated post-test gains in aerobic fitness, but these were significant only in the experimental group. The experimental group demonstrated twice the accuracy in cognitive tasks at post-test compared with the control group.

The authors concluded that a daily after-school fitness programme improves brain health. They warned that policies that seek to increase academic achievement by replacing physical education and break times with academic classes may inadvertently do more harm than good.

Source: Effects of the FITKids Randomized Controlled Trial on Executive Control and Brain Function (2014), Pediatrics 134(4)