This manuscript, which arose from the inaugural Tom Rowland Lecture Series at the 2016 North American Society for Pediatric Exercise Medicine conference, provides a brief descriptive review of what is known (i.e., the state of the science) regarding the relation of childhood physical activity (PA) and cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) to brain health, cognition, and academic outcomes. Gaps in the knowledgebase are identified, including characteristics of the PA stimulus that promotes changes in brain and cognition, whether critical periods in development exist in which PA/CRF may have a disproportionately large influence, the understanding of individual difference factors, and the influence upon learning. Lastly, several possible directions for future research are proposed. Although the field of childhood PA, CRF, brain, and cognition is rapidly expanding, there is considerable room for future growth. This manuscript may be helpful in shaping that future growth, with the goal of improving lifelong health and effective functioning.
Charles H. Hillman and John R. Biggan
John R. Biggan, Forest Melton, Michael A. Horvat, Mark Ricard, David Keller, and Christopher T. Ray
The understanding of prefrail and nonfrail older adults’ postural control with and without increased environmental and cognitive stress is imperative to the development of targeted interventions to decrease fall risk within these populations. Thirty-eight individuals participated in this study. Postural control testing included the Sensory Organization Test (SOT) on a NeuroCom EquiTest. Cognitive and environmental load testing was performed during Condition 6 of the SOT. Though there were no group differences on composite equilibrium score (p = .06), the cognitive task (Stroop task) impaired equilibrium scores more than the auditory or visual distracter tasks (p < .05 and p < .01) for both groups. These results suggest that both prefrail and nonfrail older adults’ postural control is reduced in demanding environments. Given these findings, the need for multimodal exercise interventions to target both physical and cognitive factors is apparent.
Lauren B. Raine, John R. Biggan, Carol L. Baym, Brian J. Saliba, Neal J. Cohen, and Charles H. Hillman
There is a growing trend of decreasing physical fitness among adolescents, which may result not only in poorer physical health, but also in poorer academic achievement. Purpose: The purpose of this study was to investigate the changes in aerobic fitness and academic achievement in reading and mathematics during middle school. Methods: This study employed a prospective, longitudinal cross-sectional design. Fifty-two adolescents were followed from sixth grade through eighth grade. In the spring, sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students completed Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Endurance Run tests measuring aerobic fitness. In addition, students also completed Illinois Standards Achievement Test academic achievement tests in reading and mathematics. Results: Changes in aerobic fitness between sixth and eighth grade were positively related to changes in academic achievement in both reading and mathematics between sixth and eighth grade. Conclusion: These data suggest that changes in aerobic fitness may modulate changes in academic achievement. These findings highlight the importance of physical activity and have broad relevance for educational systems and policies.