Study: Preschoolers with higher cardiorespiratory fitness do better on cognitive tests

February 18, 2021

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Researchers report that 4-6-year-old children who walk further than their peers during a timed test - a method used to estimate cardiorespiratory health - also do better on cognitive tests and other measures of brain function. Published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, the study suggests that the link between cardiorespiratory fitness and cognitive health is evident even earlier in life than previously appreciated.

Most studies of the link between fitness and brain health focus on adults or preadolescent or adolescent children, said doctoral student Shelby Keye, who led the new research with Naiman Khan, a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Such research has consistently found positive correlations between people's aerobic exercise capacity and their academic achievement and cognitive abilities, she said. Studies have found that higher cardiorespiratory fitness in older children and adults corresponds to the relative size and connectivity of brain structures that are important to cognitive control.

"But it isn't yet known at what point in the developmental trajectory of childhood this relationship emerges," Keye said.

Previous reports suggest that, just like older children and adults, preschoolers are failing to meet daily recommended guidelines for physical activity.

"This is worrisome, since brain development of core cognitive control processes begins in early childhood and continues well into early adulthood," Khan said. And yet, studies of this age group are limited, he said.

To better understand the relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and brain health in 59 preschool-aged children, the researchers subjected them to several tests. The children walked as far as they could in six minutes, a test that allowed researchers to estimate their cardiorespiratory fitness. An early cognitive and academic development test gave the team a measure of each child's intellectual abilities, and a computerized "flanker" task measured how well they were able to focus on the important part of an image while ignoring distracting information. Participants also took part in a computerized task that required them to alter their responses depending on whether flowers or hearts appeared on the screen - a measure of mental flexibility.

A subset of 33 children also engaged in an auditory task that required them to respond to certain sounds and not others while wearing an EEG cap. The EEG measured electrical activity during the cognitive control task.

"The EEG offers a noninvasive way to measure children's ability to pay attention despite distractions and process information in real time as they complete tasks," Keye said.

Statistical analyses revealed a relationship between the children's physical fitness and their cognitive abilities and brain function, the researchers said.

"Preschool children with higher estimated cardiorespiratory fitness had higher scores on academic ability tasks related to general intellectual abilities as well as their use of expressive language," Keye said. "They had better performance on computerized tasks requiring attention and multitasking skills, and they showed the potential for faster processing speeds and greater resource allocation in the brain when completing these computerized tasks."

The study does not prove that cardiorespiratory fitness enhances cognitive abilities in young children but adds to a growing body of evidence that the two are closely linked - even in children as young as four years old, the researchers said.
-end-
This research was funded by the National Dairy Council, with partial funding provided by the department of kinesiology and community health and the Graduate College Fellowship at the U. of I.

Editor's notes:

To reach Shelby Keye, email skeye2@illinois.edu.

To reach Naiman Khan, email nakhan2@illinois.edu.

The paper "Six-minute walking test performance relates to neurocognitive abilities in preschoolers" is available online and from the U. of I. News Bureau.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, News Bureau

Related Brain Articles from Brightsurf:

Glioblastoma nanomedicine crosses into brain in mice, eradicates recurring brain cancer
A new synthetic protein nanoparticle capable of slipping past the nearly impermeable blood-brain barrier in mice could deliver cancer-killing drugs directly to malignant brain tumors, new research from the University of Michigan shows.

Children with asymptomatic brain bleeds as newborns show normal brain development at age 2
A study by UNC researchers finds that neurodevelopmental scores and gray matter volumes at age two years did not differ between children who had MRI-confirmed asymptomatic subdural hemorrhages when they were neonates, compared to children with no history of subdural hemorrhage.

New model of human brain 'conversations' could inform research on brain disease, cognition
A team of Indiana University neuroscientists has built a new model of human brain networks that sheds light on how the brain functions.

Human brain size gene triggers bigger brain in monkeys
Dresden and Japanese researchers show that a human-specific gene causes a larger neocortex in the common marmoset, a non-human primate.

Unique insight into development of the human brain: Model of the early embryonic brain
Stem cell researchers from the University of Copenhagen have designed a model of an early embryonic brain.

An optical brain-to-brain interface supports information exchange for locomotion control
Chinese researchers established an optical BtBI that supports rapid information transmission for precise locomotion control, thus providing a proof-of-principle demonstration of fast BtBI for real-time behavioral control.

Transplanting human nerve cells into a mouse brain reveals how they wire into brain circuits
A team of researchers led by Pierre Vanderhaeghen and Vincent Bonin (VIB-KU Leuven, Université libre de Bruxelles and NERF) showed how human nerve cells can develop at their own pace, and form highly precise connections with the surrounding mouse brain cells.

Brain scans reveal how the human brain compensates when one hemisphere is removed
Researchers studying six adults who had one of their brain hemispheres removed during childhood to reduce epileptic seizures found that the remaining half of the brain formed unusually strong connections between different functional brain networks, which potentially help the body to function as if the brain were intact.

Alcohol byproduct contributes to brain chemistry changes in specific brain regions
Study of mouse models provides clear implications for new targets to treat alcohol use disorder and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Scientists predict the areas of the brain to stimulate transitions between different brain states
Using a computer model of the brain, Gustavo Deco, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, and Josephine Cruzat, a member of his team, together with a group of international collaborators, have developed an innovative method published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Sept.

Read More: Brain News and Brain Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.