Psychophysiology published research on the effects of acute exercise on executive function in 20 healthy, 8-10, year old children. This study compared the effect of an acute bout of continuous or intermittent, moderate-intensity treadmill exercise on executive function in young children. Participants in the continuous exercise group ran at 90% of gas exchange threshold whereas the participants in the intermittent exercise group performed six consecutive 2.5 min blocks of exercise. The intermittent exercise block was designed to reflect children’s typical activity patterns, comprising 45 s at a heavy intensity, 33 s at a moderate intensity, 10 s at a severe intensity, and 62 s at a low intensity.
Assessment of executive function included the Stroop task before the submaximal exercise bouts and after, at 1-, 15-, and 30-min intervals and near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) to measure cerebral perfusion and oxygenation.
The results indicated that:
- in both conditions, Stroop performance was improved at 1 min after compared to before and the improvements were maintained until 30 min after.
- NIRS (oxyhemoglobin, total hemoglobin) explained a significant amount of variance in the change in Stroop performance for the intermittent group only.
The researchers concluded that an acute bout of exercise, of either an intermittent or continuous nature, improves executive function in children, and effects are maintained for ≤ 30 min following exercise cessation. Therefore, it is recommended that children should participate in bouts of physical activity during the school day.
Reference: Lambrick, D., Stoner, L., Grigg, R. and Faulkner, J. (2016), Effects of continuous and intermittent exercise on executive function in children aged 8–10 years. Psychophysiology, 53: 1335–1342. doi: 10.1111/psyp.12688
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