Exercise Improves Executive Function in Children

Educational outcomes of sedentary children benefit from the dose-response effect of exercise

FRIDAY, Feb. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Exercise is associated with improved executive function and mathematical achievement in children, according to a study published in the January issue of Health Psychology.

Catherine L. Davis, Ph.D., from the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, and colleagues assessed the effect of exercise on executive function in 171 overweight, sedentary children aged 7 to 11. The children were assigned to an exercise program that included 20 or 40 minutes of aerobic exercise per day, or to a control group for an average of 13 weeks. The Cognitive Assessment System and Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement III were used as psychological evaluations, which provided a blinded outcome measurement of cognitive and academic achievement. Twenty children participated in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) sub-study, and underwent imaging at baseline and at the end of the study.

The investigators identified a dose-response benefit on executive function and achievement in mathematics according to intention-to-treat analysis. There was some evidence from fMRI data of increased bilateral prefrontal cortex activity and reduced bilateral posterior parietal cortex activity, which could be attributed to exercise.

"These experimental data offer evidence that a vigorous after-school aerobic exercise program improved executive function in dose-response fashion among overweight children. Changes in corresponding brain-activation patterns were observed," the authors write.

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