Effects of continuous and intermittent exercise on executive function in children aged 8-10 years


Understanding the effects of acute exercise on executive function in prepubescent children may be important for the enhancement of school performance. This study assessed the effect of an acute bout of continuous (CONT) or intermittent (INT), moderate-intensity treadmill exercise on executive function in young children. Twenty healthy children, mean (SD); age: 8.8 (0.8) years; height: 140 (9) cm; weight: 36 (11) kg; boys: n = 9, performed a graded-exercise test to determine maximal oxygen uptake, and two 15-min submaximal bouts of treadmill exercise; protocols were either CONT or INT. During CONT, participants ran at 90% of gas exchange threshold. During INT, participants performed six consecutive 2.5 min blocks of exercise, which were designed to reflect children’s typical activity patterns, comprising 45 s at a heavy intensity, 33 s at a moderate intensity, 10 s at a severe intensity, and 62 s at a low intensity. Participants performed the Stroop task before the submaximal exercise bouts and after, at 1-, 15-, and 30-min intervals. Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) measured cerebral perfusion and oxygenation. Regardless of condition, Stroop performance was improved at 1 min after compared to before, 54.9 (9.8) s versus 57.9 (11) s, respectively, p < .01, and improvements were maintained until 30 min after. NIRS (oxyhemoglobin, total hemoglobin) explained a significant amount of variance in the change in Stroop performance for INT only (49%, p < .05). An acute bout of exercise, of either an intermittent or continuous nature, improves executive function in children, and effects are maintained for ≤ 30 min following exercise cessation. Accordingly, it is recommended that children should engage in physical activity during periods of school recess.