Physical Activity and Cognition in Adolescents: A Systematic Review

Purpose: To perform a systematic review of the evidence on the associations between physical activity and cognition by differentiating between academic and cognitive performance measures. Second-generation questions regarding potential mediators or moderators (i.e., sex, age and psychological variables) of this relationship were also examined.

  • Methods: Studies were identified from searches in PubMed, Sportdiscus and ERIC databases from 2000 through 2013. The search process was carried out by two independent researchers.
  • Results: A total of 20 articles met the inclusion criteria, 2 of them analyzed both cognitive and academic performance in relation to physical activity. Four articles (18%) found no association between physical activity and academic performance, 11 (50%) found positive association and one showed negative association (5%). Five articles (23%) found positive association between physical activity and cognitive performance and one showed negative association (5%). The findings of these studies show that cognitive performance is associated with vigorous physical activity and that academic performance is related to general physical activity, but mainly in girls. Results of the review also indicate that type of activity and some psychological factors (i.e., self-esteem, depression) could mediate the association between physical activity and academic performance.
  • Conclusions: Results of the review support that physical activity is associated with cognition, but more research is needed to clarify the role of sex, intensity and type of physical activity and some psychological variables of this association.

Esteban-Cornejo I, Tejero-Gonzalez CM, Sallis JF, Veiga OL. Physical activity and cognition in adolescents: A systematic review. J Sci Med Sport 2014.

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