Image credit: Steven S. / Flickr

That exercise leads to higher focus and increased performance in intellectual activities is generally regarded as a fact. It is also often used as an argument by those promoting sports and gymnastics at school.

But if exercise really does affects cognitive abilities and mental performance is a very interesting and valid question with great potential implications, especially relevant for children in school. There are actually quite a lot of research done on this topic. But we will here examine a systematic review and meta-analysis that was recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

This study examined the specific effects of exercise and physical activity on cognitive performance in children and adolescents. Using data and results from nineteen previous studies.

CONCLUSIONS : Results suggest That acute physical exercise enhances executive functioning. The number of studies on chronic physical exercise is limited and it Should be investigated whether chronic physical exercise shows effects on executive functions comparable to acute physical exercise . This is highly relevant in preadolescence children and adolescents , given the importance of well-developed executive functions for daily life Functioning and the current Increase in sedentary behavior in These age groups.


The researchers do indeed find strong evidence that exercise does improve children’s and adolescents’ executive cognitive functioning. The study participants became better at absorbing information, organizing it, solving and focusing on problems.

This study looked specifically at children and young people but other studies have indicated similar results in also adults.

The natural follow up questions are how much effort and time must be invested to achieve these positive cognitive effects or perhaps the greatest effect. Current scientific research has no answer to this at present time.

Perhaps there is no more gain to be achieved exceeding a certain amount of cardiovascular training over a certain time period. Or perhaps high-intensity exercise is more efficient than low-intensity exercise? Further research will possibly address these questions.

Physical exercise and executive functions in preadolescent children, adolescents and young adults: a meta-analysis.