What effects do physical activity and sedentary behaviour have on the working memory of children and adolescents? A new study by researchers from ISGlobal, a institute supported by the ”la Caixa” Foundation, has found that a low level of physical activity at preschool and primary-school age is associated with poorer working-memory performance at primary-school age and in adolescence, respectively.
This study, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, formed part of the INMA - Environment and Childhood Project. A total of 1,400 children and adolescents from Menorca, Valencia, Sabadell and Gipuzkoa (Spain) underwent neuropsychological testing and data on their lifestyle habits were collected through a questionnaire administered to the parents.
Healthy habits such as physical activity are considered to be a fundamental prerequisite for the development of basic cognitive, motor and social skills in children. One of the most important functions for learning and academic achievement is working memory, that is, the ability to hold information in short-term storage for cognitive processing.
The study found that children who had a low level of extracurricular physical activity at 6 years of age scored significantly lower on memory tests during adolescence than their more active peers. The same association was found in 7-year-olds who had had low levels of physical activity at age 4 years, although the effect size was smaller. The study also found that sedentary behaviour in early childhood may negatively influence cognitive maturation during adolescence, but only in boys.
“Little research has been done on the association between physical activity and working memory in children, but the few studies that have addressed this question have generally found evidence of a positive relationship,” commented ISGlobal researcher Mònica López-Vicente, the lead author of the study. “Our study is the first to analyse the longitudinal association between extracurricular physical activity habits and working memory during two key periods of cognitive maturation.”
Jordi Sunyer, Head of the Child Health Programme at ISGlobal and coordinator of the study, commented: “These findings show that it is important to promote physical activity habits and reduce sedentary behaviour in early childhood in order to increase children’s cognitive potential.”
López-Vicente M, Garcia-Aymerich J, Torrent-Pallicer J, Forns J, Ibarluzea J, Lertxundi N, González L, Valera-Gran D, Torrent M, Dadvand P, Vrijheid M, Sunyer J. Are Early Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviors Related to Working Memory at 7 and 14 Years of Age?. J Pediatr. 2017 Jun 27. pii: S0022-3476(17)30775-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2017.05.079. [Epub ahead of print]