The Healthy for Life Taekwondo Pilot Study: A Preliminary Evaluation of Effects on Executive Function and BMI, Feasibility, and Acceptability

Ment Health Phys Act. 2013 Oct 1;6(3):181-188. doi: 10.1016/j.mhpa.2013.07.002.


There is growing consensus that exercise improves cognitive functioning, but research is needed to identify exercise interventions that optimize effects on cognition. The objective of this pilot study was to evaluate Taekwondo implemented in public middle school physical education (PE). Two classes were randomly assigned to either: five sessions per week of PE or three sessions of PE and two sessions of Taekwondo. In PE sessions, evidence-based curriculum to address the Presidential Core Fitness Guidelines and California Physical Fitness Tests was implemented. Taekwondo sessions included traditional techniques and forms taught in an environment emphasizing respect and self-control. Sixty students were evaluated at baseline and during the last week of the intervention (nine months later). Differences in mean residualized change scores for parent-rated inhibitory behavioral control yielded a significant, large effect size (d =.95, p =.00), reflecting greater improvement among Taekwondo students. Results from an executive function computer-administered task revealed greater accuracy on the congruent trial (d = 2.00, p = .02) for Taekwondo students. Differences in mean residualized change scores for BMI z scores yielded a moderate, non-significant effect size (d = - .51, p = .16). The majority of Taekwondo students reported positive perceptions of Taekwondo and perceived self-improvement in self-control and physical fitness. Results suggest that Taekwondo is an exercise program that improves cognitive functioning and is both feasible and acceptable to implement in a public school setting.

Keywords: Taekwondo; attention; executive function; exercise; martial arts; self-control; self-regulation.