Physical activity interventions and children's mental function: an introduction and overview

Prev Med. 2011 Jun;52 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):S3-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2011.01.028. Epub 2011 Mar 21.


Background: This review provides a historical overview of physical activity interventions designed by American educators and an evaluation of research that has assessed the effects of exercise on children's mental function.

Method: Historical descriptions of the emergence of American physical education doctrine throughout the 20th century were evaluated. Prior reviews of studies that assessed the effects of single acute bouts of exercise and the effects of chronic exercise training on children's mental function were examined and the results of recent studies were summarized.

Results: Physical activity interventions designed for American children have reflected two competing views: activities should promote physical fitness and activities should promote social, emotional, and intellectual development. Research results indicate that exercise fosters the emergence of children's mental function; particularly executive functioning. The route by which physical activity impacts mental functioning is complex and is likely moderated by several variables, including physical fitness level, health status, and numerous psycho-social factors.

Conclusion: Physical activity interventions for children should be designed to meet multiple objectives; e.g., optimize physical fitness, promote health-related behaviors that offset obesity, and facilitate mental development.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Development / physiology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Exercise / psychology
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Physical Fitness / physiology
  • Physical Fitness / psychology