Physical inactivity has been shown to increase the risk for several chronic diseases across the lifespan. However, the impact of physical activity and aerobic fitness on childhood cognitive and brain health has only recently gained attention. The purposes of this article are to: 1) highlight the recent emphasis for increasing physical activity and aerobic fitness in children’s lives for cognitive and brain health; 2) present aspects of brain development and cognitive function that are susceptible to physical activity intervention; 3) review neuroimaging studies examining the cross-sectional and experimental relationships between aerobic fitness and executive control function; and 4) make recommendations for future research. Given that the human brain is not fully developed until the third decade of life, preadolescence is characterized by changes in brain structure and function underlying aspects of cognition including executive control and relational memory. Achieving adequate physical activity and maintaining aerobic fitness in childhood may be a critical guideline to follow for physical as well as cognitive and brain health.
Naiman A. Khan and Charles H. Hillman
Gabriella M. McLoughlin, Kim C. Graber, Amelia M. Woods, Tom Templin, Mike Metzler, and Naiman A. Khan
Purpose: To address the obesity epidemic and promote children’s health; several health organizations recommend that schools develop comprehensive programs designed to promote physical activity and health behavior. Given a lack of empirical investigation, the authors sought to understand how physical education programs are perceived within such initiatives. Methods: A case study was conducted to acquire insights of key stakeholders (N = 67) in a school nationally recognized for promoting physical activity and health. Data were collected using formal interviews, informal interviews, observations, and document analysis. Data were analyzed utilizing grounded theory and constant comparison. Results: Physical education was viewed positively by stakeholders; however, physical educators felt marginalized within the school infrastructure. Systemic barriers to program quality included lack of leadership, feelings of marginalization, and insufficient funding and collaboration. Discussion: Findings raise concerns about the difficulty of sustaining a high-quality physical education program even in a school recognized for significant support of physical activity.
Nicholas W. Baumgartner, Anne M. Walk, Caitlyn G. Edwards, Alicia R. Covello, Morgan R. Chojnacki, Ginger E. Reeser, Andrew M. Taylor, Hannah D. Holscher, and Naiman A. Khan
Background: Physical inactivity and excess adiposity are thought to be detrimental to physical and cognitive health. However, implications of these interrelated health factors are rarely examined together; consequently, little is known regarding the concomitant contribution of physical activity and adiposity to cognition. Methods: Bivariate correlations and hierarchical linear regressions were conducted among a sample of adults between 25 and 45 years (N = 65). Attentional inhibition was assessed using an Eriksen Flanker task. Whole-body percent body fat (%Fat) was assessed using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Daily percent time spent in moderate to vigorous physical activity (%MVPA) was monitored using an accelerometer (7 d). Results: After adjusting for significant covariates, %MVPA was a positive predictor of accuracy in the incongruent task (β = 0.31, P = .03). Individuals who engaged in greater %MVPA exhibited superior attentional inhibition. Additionally, there was an interaction effect of %Fat and %MVPA on attentional inhibition (β = 0.45, P = .04). Conclusion: The positive influence of MVPA on cognitive control persists following the adjustment of significant covariates and adiposity. Additionally, interactive effects between %Fat and %MVPA suggest that individuals with lower activity and greater adiposity exhibited poorer attentional inhibition. These findings have relevance for public health given the elevated rates of physical inactivity and obesity.