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The current study investigates how children’s amount of daily physical activity relates to subcomponents of executive functions, the cognitive processes needed for goal-directed behavior. Previous studies rarely determined this association at the subcomponent level and did not explicitly examine the period when children make the transition to first grade, despite its importance for the development of executive functions.
In a sample of 54 children, working memory, inhibition, and cognitive flexibility were thoroughly measured at the subcomponent level at the end of kindergarten and first grade. In the middle of first grade, children wore a pedometer for 7 consecutive days.
Regression analyses showed that performance on a measure of the visuospatial sketchpad, the central executive, and fluency was predicted by children’s amount of daily physical activity after controlling for initial task performance.
The development of the visuospatial sketchpad (working memory), the central executive (working memory), and fluency (cognitive flexibility) might be improved by increasing the amount of time being physically active. However, as other subcomponents of executive functioning were not affected, the role of other aspects of physical activity, such as intensity and content, in the development of executive functions should be further investigated.
Vandenbroucke and Baeyens are with the Research Unit of Parenting and Special Education; Seghers and Wijtzes are with the Physical Activity, Sports, and Health Research Group; Verschueren is with the Research Group of School Psychology and Child and Adolescent Development; KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium.