Effects of one versus two bouts of moderate intensity physical activity on selective attention during a school morning in Dutch primary schoolchildren: A randomized controlled trial

J Sci Med Sport. 2016 Oct;19(10):820-4. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2015.12.003. Epub 2015 Dec 13.


Objectives: Evidence suggests that physical activity is positively related to several aspects of cognitive functioning in children, among which is selective attention. To date, no information is available on the optimal frequency of physical activity on cognitive functioning in children. The current study examined the acute effects of one and two bouts of moderate-intensity physical activity on children's selective attention.

Design: Randomized controlled trial (ISRCTN97975679).

Methods: Thirty boys and twenty-six girls, aged 10-13 years, were randomly assigned to three conditions: (A) sitting all morning working on simulated school tasks; (B) one 20-min physical activity bout after 90min; and (C) two 20-min physical activity bouts, i.e. at the start and after 90min. Selective attention was assessed at five time points during the morning (i.e. at baseline and after 20, 110, 130 and 220min), using the 'Sky Search' subtest of the 'Test of Selective Attention in Children'. We used GEE analysis to examine differences in Sky Search scores between the three experimental conditions, adjusting for school, baseline scores, self-reported screen time and time spent in sports.

Results: Children who performed two 20-min bouts of moderate-intensity physical activity had significantly better Sky Search scores compared to children who performed one physical activity bout or remained seated the whole morning (B=-0.26; 95% CI=[-0.52; -0.00]).

Conclusions: Our findings support the importance of repeated physical activity during the school day for beneficial effects on selective attention in children.

Keywords: Adolescent; Child; Cognition; Exercise; Physical activity; School.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attention*
  • Child
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Netherlands
  • Physical Exertion*
  • Schools
  • Sedentary Behavior
  • Students*