Physical Activity, Fitness, School Readiness, and Cognition in Early Childhood: A Systematic Review

in Journal of Physical Activity and Health
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Background: Early childhood is an important age for brain and cognitive development. Given the support of physical activity and fitness on cognition and academic performance in older children, more research has emerged recently focusing on younger children. In this systematic review, the authors review the relations between physical activity/fitness and academic-related (ie, school readiness and cognitive) outcomes in early childhood. Methods: A search was conducted from PubMed, PsycINFO, Web of Science, ERIC databases, and reference lists for articles that had participants aged less than 6 years were written in English, and were in peer-reviewed journals. Articles were excluded if the design was a case study or case series report. The Grading Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation framework was followed to assess the quality of evidence by study design. Results: Sixty-eight articles reporting on 72 studies (29 observational and 43 experimental) were included. The majority of study effects were mixed, and the quality of evidence varied from very low to low. Conclusions: A clear consensus about the role of physical activity and fitness on academic-related outcomes in early childhood is still lacking given the high heterogeneity in methodological approaches and overall effects. Additional high-quality studies are needed to determine what specific dosages of physical activity are impactful at this age.

St. Laurent, Andre, and Spencer are with the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA, USA. Burkart is with the Department of Exercise Science, Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, USA. Spencer is also with the Institute of Applied Life Sciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA, USA. Andre is now with the Department of Psychology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA.

St. Laurent (cstlaurent@umass.edu) is corresponding author.

Supplementary Materials

    • Supplementary Table 1 (PDF 256 KB)
    • Supplementary Table 2 (PDF 741 KB)
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