The Importance of Physical Activity and Aerobic Fitness for Cognitive Control and Memory in Children


  • We review literature that examines the association among physical activity, aerobic fitness, cognition, and the brain in elementary school children (ages 7-10 years).
  • Specifically, physical activity and higher levels of aerobic fitness in children have been found to benefit brain structure, brain function, cognition, and school achievement. For example, higher fit children have larger brain volumes in the basal ganglia and hippocampus, which relate to superior performance on tasks of cognitive control and memory, respectively, when compared to their lower fit peers. Higher fit children also show superior brain function during tasks of cognitive control, better scores on tests of academic achievement, and higher performance on a real-world street crossing task, compared to lower fit and less active children.
  • The cross-sectional findings are strengthened by a few randomized, controlled trials, which demonstrate that children randomly assigned to a physical activity intervention group show greater brain and cognitive benefits compared to a control group.
  • Because these findings suggest that the developing brain is plastic and sensitive to lifestyle factors, we also discuss typical structural and functional brain maturation in children to provide context in which to interpret the effects of physical activity and aerobic fitness on the developing brain.
  • This research is important because children are becoming increasingly sedentary, physically inactive, and unfit. An important goal of this review is to emphasize the importance of physical activity and aerobic fitness for the cognitive and brain health of today's youth.

Chaddock-Heyman L, Hillman CH, Cohen NJ, Kramer AF. The importance of physical activity and aerobic fitness for cognitive control and memory in children. In: Monogr Soc Res Child Dev; 2014. p. 25-50.

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