Differential effects of long-term aerobic versus cognitively-engaging physical activity on children's visuospatial working memory related brain activation: A cluster RCT

A G M de Bruijn*, I M J van der Fels, R J Renken, M Königs, A Meijer, J Oosterlaan, D D N M Kostons, C Visscher, R J Bosker, J Smith, E Hartman

*Corresponding author for this work

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Different types of physical activity are thought to differentially affect children's brain activation, via physiological mechanisms, or by activating similar brain areas during physical and cognitive tasks. Despite many behavioral studies relying on these mechanisms, they have been rarely studied. This study looks at both mechanisms simultaneously, by examining effects of two physical activity interventions (aerobic vs. cognitively-engaging) on children's brain activation. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) data of 62 children (48.4% boys, mean age 9.2 years) was analyzed. Children's visuospatial working memory related brain activity patterns were tested using a Spatial Span Task before and after the 14-week interventions consisting of four physical education lessons per week. The control group followed their regular program of two lessons per week. Analyses of activation patterns in SPM 12.0 revealed no activation changes between pretest and posttest (p > .05), and no differences between the three conditions in pretest-posttest changes in brain activation (p > .05). Large inter-individual differences were found, suggesting that not every child benefited from the interventions in the same way. To get more insight into the assumed mechanisms, further research is needed to understand whether, when, for whom, and how physical activity results in changed brain activation patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105812
Number of pages12
JournalBrain and Cognition
Early online date26-Oct-2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec-2021

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