Objective To summarise the current evidence on the effects of physical activity (PA) interventions on cognitive and academic performance in children, and formulate research priorities and recommendations.
Design Systematic review (following PRISMA guidelines) with a methodological quality assessment and an international expert panel. We based the evaluation of the consistency of the scientific evidence on the findings reported in studies rated as of high methodological quality.
Data sources PubMed, PsycINFO, Cochrane Central, Web of Science, ERIC, and SPORTDiscus.
Eligibility criteria for selecting studies PA-intervention studies in children with at least one cognitive or academic performance assessment.
Results Eleven (19%) of 58 included intervention studies received a high-quality rating for methodological quality: four assessed effects of PA interventions on cognitive performance, six assessed effects on academic performance, and one on both. All high-quality studies contrasted the effects of additional/adapted PA activities with regular curriculum activities. For cognitive performance 10 of 21 (48%) constructs analysed showed statistically significant beneficial intervention effects of PA, while for academic performance, 15 of 25 (60%) analyses found a significant beneficial effect of PA. Across all five studies assessing PA effects on mathematics, beneficial effects were reported in six out of seven (86%) outcomes.
Experts put forward 46 research questions. The most pressing research priority cluster concerned the causality of the relationship between PA and cognitive/academic performance. The remaining clusters pertained to PA characteristics, moderators and mechanisms governing the ‘PA–performance’ relationship and miscellaneous topics.
Conclusion There is currently inconclusive evidence for the beneficial effects of PA interventions on cognitive and overall academic performance in children. We conclude that there is strong evidence for beneficial effects of PA on maths performance.
The expert panel confirmed that more ‘high-quality’ research is warranted. By prioritising the most important research questions and formulating recommendations we aim to guide researchers in generating high-quality evidence. Our recommendations focus on adequate control groups and sample size, the use of valid and reliable measurement instruments for physical activity and cognitive performance, measurement of compliance and data analysis.
PROSPERO registration number CRD42017082505.
- physical activity
- aerobic fitness
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Contributors ASS, ES and MJMC: Involved in all stages of the manuscript preparation, conception of the study, execution of the study, critical revisions of the first draft and integration of all comments of the co-authors into several drafts before submission. ASS, ES and VvdB: Literature search and review; data extraction, data analysis, preparation of the first draft. VvdB and LU: Involved in data analysis and critical comments on several drafts of the manuscript. JJ and RHMdG: Involved in data analyses, giving feedback on study conception and critical comments on several versions of the manuscript. The remainder of the authors: Provided and rated all research priorities as part of the expert panel which is a major part of the manuscript as well as critical comments on several drafts of the manuscript until its final form.
Funding The current research is part of the SMART MOVES! project, supported by a grant from NWO (grant number: SPO-12-14).
Competing interests None declared.
Patient consent Not required.
Ethics approval As part of the SMART MOVES! project, the current study was approved by the Medical and Ethical Committee of the VU University medical center in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
Data sharing statement This is a review based on existing data, no original experimental data are presented.
Correction notice This article has been corrected since it was published Online First. The affiliation of YKC has been corrected.
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