Physical activity, defined as bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that result in energy expenditure (World Health Organization), has been shown to be beneficial to developing cognitive function in children, where cognitive function (CF) refers to basal mental operation, such as perception, memory, and executive function. Physical activity (PA) intervention can be classified into two categories: acute PA, which involves a single short-term bout (between 10 – 40 min), and chronic PA, which entails multiple sessions per week or month for an extended period (e.g., 6 weeks). The underlying mechanisms of these two types of PA are different so the effect of PA interventions (acute vs chronic) on improving CF in children may also be different. Song and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis to investigate the effect of acute and chronic PA interventions on the cognitive function of preschool children.
Eligible studies were those that targeted preschool children aged 2-6 years, contained a sport or PA intervention component (e.g., yoga, aerobic, physical education session), and reported at least one cognitive outcome (e.g., attention, perception, logic and reasoning). The study identified 16 articles (4 acute PA and 12 chronic PA) that met the inclusion criteria. Following the Physiotherapy Evidence Database (PEDro) scale, a mean quality score of 5.6 out of 10 was found for those selected studies.
- The 4 studies of acute PA found no effect on executive functions (g =0.04; 95% CI = [−12, 0.19]).
- Overall, chronic PA interventions showed a moderate effect on CF (g = 0.49; 95% CI = [0.29, 0.69]). The effect on perception was strongest (g = 1.19; 95% CI = [0.64, 1.75]), followed by inhibitory control (g = 0.58; 95% CI = [0.17, 0.98]).
- Two moderators were found significant: (1) intervention modality (curricula PA (g = 0.97) vs after school sports/PA program (g=0.34)); and (2) assessment (field battery/scale (g = 0.64) vs computerized test (g = 0.18)).
The undetermined effect of acute PA intervention on CF may be due to the inadequate number of studies. Moreover, this meta-analysis included a variety of cognitive tasks which may result in high heterogeneity. Thus, the findings have to be interpreted with caution.
Source: Song, H., Wang, J.-J., Zhang, B., Shi, L., & Lau, P. W. C. (2023). Do acute and chronic physical activity interventions affect the cognitive function of preschool children? A meta-analysis. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 67, 102419. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2023.102419