Relationships between physical activity and motor and cognitive function in young children

Fisher, Abigail (2009) Relationships between physical activity and motor and cognitive function in young children. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Background: There is evidence suggesting a relationship between physical activity and movement skills in adolescents. Evidence, primarily from animal and older adult data, suggests that physical activity can improve cognitive function. Both motor and cognitive function are essential components of school readiness. If these relationships exist in young children, promotion of physical activity may have a significant impact on school readiness and academic achievement.

Participants and Methods
Study 1: 394 children (mean 4.2 SD 0.5 years; 209 boys/185 girls) were recruited from 36 Glasgow preschools. Physical activity (PA) was measured using the Actigraph accelerometer, movement skills (MS) were assessed using a test based on the Movement Assessment Battery. Studies 2-4: 64 children (mean age 6.2 yrs SD 0.3; 33 boys / 38 girls) were recruited from 6 Glasgow primary schools. Psychological outcome measures were the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Battery (CANTAB) (working memory), the Attention Network Test (reaction time) the Cognitive Assessment System (CAS) (executive function), and the short form of Connor’s Parent Rating Scale (CPRS:S) (behaviour). Physical activity was measured using the Actigraph GT1M accelerometer. A specialist and trained teacher-led physical activity intervention (active games) was run in intervention schools 2 hours per week for 10 weeks. The control PE sessions were specialist and teacher led standard curriculum, increased to 2 hours per week.

Results: Study 1: There was a statistically significant, but very weak (r 0.18, p <0.001), correlation between MS and PA. Boys and girls in the highest quartile for MS had significantly greater time spent in MVPA than girls and boys and girls in the lowest quartile, but this difference was small; median difference between girls in Q4 and Q1 0.9%: 95% CI 0.2-1.6% p 0.01), median difference between boys in Q4 and Q1 (median difference 0.9% 95% CI 0.0-0.2% p 0.04).
Studies 2-4: Test and 3 week retest intraclass correlations (ICC) from the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Battery (CANTAB) and Attention Network Test (ANT) suggest these measures are not sufficiently reliable in to be used an outcome in a future RCT in this age group (CANTAB spatial span r 0.51 p<0.001; spatial working memory r 0.49 p<0.00.1; strategy r 0.08, p<0.52) (ANT reaction time 0.32 p<0.05; accuracy 0.62, p<0.001). The CAS was accepted well by young children, has good previously established reliability, and would be a suitable outcome measure for a full scale RCT. There was no significant difference between the intervention and control group change in CAS scores (Full scale t=-0.74, p=0.48) or any of the subscales (p all >0.05). Physical activity was significantly higher during the intervention, than the control physical education (PE) sessions (median difference 628 cpm 95% CI 460, 786 p= <0.0001). During the standard curriculum PE sessions children in the control group spent 58% of their monitored time in sedentary behaviour. The existing data suggest that a 10 week intervention may improve spatial working memory (t=2.78, p 0.01) and aspects of behaviour (CPRS:S Cognitive Problems/ Inattention (t=2.00 p=0.04) in this age group, but further research in larger samples, with a more robust measure of SPW would be required to confirm these findings. The data allowed a power calculation for a future full scale RCT to be calculated (based on the CAS Planning scale), based on data from the current study a sample size of n=75 in each arm would be required, recruiting 100 in each arm to allow for drop-out.

The present data suggest only a weak relationship between MS and habitual activity, and questions the strong emphasis placed on movement skill development in the preschool curriculum. The present thesis provides data to adequately design and power a future full scale RCT to examine the effects of exercise and cognitive function.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: physical activity, child, cognition function, motor
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Q Science > QP Physiology
Colleges/Schools: College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences
Supervisor's Name: Reilly, Professor John
Date of Award: 2009
Depositing User: Miss Abigail Fisher
Unique ID: glathesis:2009-713
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 13 May 2009
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 13:25

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