Increased exercise could boost children’s cognitive skills, study suggests

Children who are fitter performed better than their peers in cognitive tasks, a new study found.

Nottingham Trent University 07 October 2021

Research by sports scientists at Nottingham Trent University showed that on average primary school pupils who were fitter – measured by those that ran the furthest on a fitness test – had better response times in tasks than those who did not run as far.

The study aimed to investigate the effect on children’s learning and memory following the ‘Daily Mile,’ a school-based physical activity which is implemented in schools across the UK and sees pupils run or jog at their own pace, usually via laps of the playground or sports pitch.

Pupils aged nine to 11 undertook a series of cognitive function tasks following exercise and rest.

The cognitive tasks were attempted by pupils immediately after exercise and 45 minutes after exercise.

The researchers found that, while exercise did not improve cognition overall, executive function – a set of mental skills that includes working memory, flexible thinking and self-control – tended to improve immediately after exercise.

In addition, the pupils classed as most fit showed superior cognition to their peers, completing tasks on average 5-10% faster and just as accurately.

The study also explored children’s enjoyment of the Daily Mile, finding that they particularly liked the self-paced nature of the activity, the social aspect and the fact that it was outdoors.

“A consistent finding of our work was that the children who were able to run the furthest during the multi-stage fitness test displayed superior cognition to their counterparts,” said lead researcher Dr Simon Cooper, Associate Professor in Exercise, Cognition and Health in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Science and Technology.

He said: Our work shows the importance of regular opportunities for physical activity in schools, not just for health and wellbeing but also cognition and academic achievement.

“The study also showed some really important evidence that young people enjoy taking part in the Daily Mile and enjoy the fact that they can exercise at their own pace and with friends. This suggests that The Daily Mile could be an effective and sustainable way to increase physical activity, and subsequently fitness, in children.”

Dr Joseph Lovett, Research Coordinator for The Daily Mile, said: “This study helps confirm what we experience first-hand, that children enjoy participating in The Daily Mile outside with their peers.

“The indication that fitter children demonstrate superior cognition is extremely encouraging. One of the core aims of the foundation is to give children the opportunity to enjoy regular physical activity to help improve fitness. The knowledge that improved fitness can improve cognitive ability is a hugely important message for us.”

The study is published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise.

Source Nottingham Trent University via Medical Xpress


The Daily Mile™: Acute effects on children’s cognitive function and factors affecting their enjoyment, Lorna M. Hatch, Ryan A. Williams, Karah J. Dring, Caroline Sunderland, Mary E. Nevill, Mustafa Sarkar, John G. Morris, Simon B. Cooper, Psychology of Sport and Exercise, Volume 57, 2021, 102047, ISSN 1469-0292.

  Further reading

Effect of Differing Durations of High-Intensity Intermittent Activity on Cognitive Function in Adolescents, Hatch LM, Dring KJ, Williams RA, Sunderland C, Nevill ME, Cooper SB. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Nov 4;18(21):11594. doi: 10.3390/ijerph182111594. Full text

The Daily Mile in practice: implementation and adaptation of the school running programme in a multiethnic city in the UK, Routen A, Gonzalez Aguado M, O’ Connell S, Harrington D. BMJ Open. 2021 Aug 2;11(8):e046655. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-046655. Full text

Activity patterns of primary school children during participation in The Daily Mile, Hatch LM, Williams RA, Dring KJ, Sunderland C, Nevill ME, Cooper SB. Sci Rep. 2021 Apr 2;11(1):7462. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-86631-2. Full text

A citizen science study of short physical activity breaks at school: improvements in cognition and wellbeing with self-paced activity, Booth JN, Chesham RA, Brooks NE, Gorely T, Moran CN. BMC Med. 2020 Mar 17;18(1):62. doi: 10.1186/s12916-020-01539-4. Full text

The Daily Mile makes primary school children more active, less sedentary and improves their fitness and body composition: a quasi-experimental pilot study, Chesham RA, Booth JN, Sweeney EL, Ryde GC, Gorely T, Brooks NE, Moran CN. BMC Med. 2018 May 10;16(1):64. doi: 10.1186/s12916-018-1049-z. Full text

Response to Daly-Smith et al.’s commentary on ‘The Daily Mile makes primary school children more active, less sedentary and improves their fitness and body composition: a quasi-experimental pilot study,’ Chesham RA, Booth JN, Sweeney EL, Ryde GC, Gorely T, Brooks NE, Moran CN. BMC Med. 2019 May 22;17(1):97. doi: 10.1186/s12916-019-1336-3. Full text

The Daily Mile: teachers’ perspectives of the barriers and facilitators to the delivery of a school-based physical activity intervention, Malden S, Doi L. BMJ Open. 2019 Mar 4;9(3):e027169. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-027169. Full text

Also see
The science behind The Daily Mile
Disabled children should exercise for 20 minutes a day, first UK guidelines say The Guardian
Physical activity for general health benefits in disabled children and disabled young people: rapid evidence review UK Department of Health & Social Care
How much exercise should disabled young people get? New recommendations offer advice The Conversation

Mobility Menu

follow us in feedly

Call 403-240-9100