Effects of aerobic versus cognitively demanding exercise interventions on brain structure and function in healthy children: Results from a cluster randomized controlled trial

Anna Meijer*, Marsh Königs, Petra J W Pouwels, Joanne Smith, Chris Visscher, Roel J Bosker, Esther Hartman, Jaap Oosterlaan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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The beneficial effects of physical activity on neurocognitive functioning in children are considered to be facilitated by physical activity-induced changes in brain structure and functioning. In this study, we examined the effects of two 14-week school-based exercise interventions in healthy children on white matter microstructure and brain activity in resting-state networks (RSNs) and whether changes in white matter microstructure and RSN activity mediate the effects of the exercise interventions on neurocognitive functioning. A total of 93 children were included in this study (51% girls, mean age 9.13 years). The exercise interventions consisted of four physical education lessons per week, focusing on either aerobic or cognitively demanding exercise and were compared with a control group that followed their regular physical education program of two lessons per week. White matter microstructure was assessed using diffusion tensor imaging in combination with tract-based spatial statistics. Independent component analysis was performed on resting-state data to identify RSNs. Furthermore, neurocognitive functioning (information processing and attention, working memory, motor response inhibition, interference control) was assessed by a set of computerized tasks. Results indicated no Group × Time effects on white matter microstructure or RSN activity, indicating no effects of the exercise interventions on these aspects of brain structure and function. Likewise, no Group × Time effects were found for neurocognitive performance. This study indicated that 14-week school-based interventions regarding neither aerobic exercise nor cognitive-demanding exercise interventions influence brain structure and brain function in healthy children. This study was registered in the Netherlands Trial Register (NTR5341).

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere14034
Number of pages23
Issue number8
Early online date15-Mar-2022
Publication statusPublished - Aug-2022

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