In a recent study published in the Scientific Reports Journal, researchers evaluated the effects of physically active lessons (PAL) over two years on the cognitive performance of Brazilian children.
Study: Effects of two years of physically active lessons on cognitive indicators in children. Image Credit: GroundPicture/Shutterstock.com
Sedentary lifestyles have been observed among children, irrespective of the socioeconomic status and culture of the nation. The adverse effects of long-term physical inactivity have been reported by previous studies, including the increased risk of developing diseases.
Additionally, sedentary lifestyles negatively impact the cognitive performance of children due to changes in the functions and structure of the human brain over prolonged periods.
Therefore, health authorities have introduced schooling interventions to improve the student's physical activity levels based on the evidence of enhanced cognitive skills and better academic results among children engaging in moderate-vigorous intensity physical exercise.
However, the impact of PAL-based interventions, incorporating physical exercise into the pedagogical content of schooling lessons, has not been extensively investigated and warrants further research.
About the study
In the present study, researchers investigated whether a 2.0-year PAL intervention could improve cognition in the pediatric population of Aracaju, Brazil.
The study included four classes of second-grade elementary schooling. The participants were allotted to the intervention class group, 34 students, and the control group, 27 students.
The team performed assessments in the pre-intervention stage (M1), three months-post intervention (M2), nine months-post intervention (M3), 14.0 months post-intervention (M4), and 18.0 months-post intervention (M5).
PAL-based lessons were incorporated into the curriculum, stimulating children to be physically active in the classrooms, including arms, legs, and torso movements, such as standing up and displacements with jumps.
Cognition was assessed using three digital tests: cognitive flexibility, selective attention, and response inhibition.
Inhibitory control was assessed using the traffic light test, selective attention was assessed using the Visual Search test, and cognitive flexibility was assessed using the mental rotation test. The tests were made more challenging during the second schooling year to reduce the likelihood of positive effects of predictable cognitive developments among children.
After weekly discussions with the research team, pedagogical material, referred to as "activities chest" was provided to all teachers for conducting the tests. Activities listed in the provided content were performed thrice weekly for a minimum of 15.0 minutes daily.
Children having severe neurological diseases or psychiatric disabilities were excluded from the analysis. The participants were followed up from May 2018 to December 2019, with interruptions in September 2018 and August 2019 due to school vacations.
Generalized Estimation Equations (GEE) were used to compare the two groups. PAL lessons included solving mathematical equations by writing the answers on the board in groups of five or six; jumping from one syllable-containing box to the next to form words; pasting objects symbolizing plastic, glass, tin, and paper into garbage cans colored red, yellow, green, and blue; and performing movements representing punctuation marks, after reading sentences and elaborating them.
Initially, 100 students were invited to participate in the study, from whom 39 were excluded and 69 were allotted to the study groups. However, only 17 from the intervention group and 19 from the control group completed all assessments.
The mean participant age was eight years. The intervention group children showed improved cognitive skills while executing all tasks during the follow-up period, in terms of time-based reactions and accurate answers, except the visual search test indicative of the selective attention component.
For PAL-based classes, in most tasks, the average differences in 95% confidence intervals were not inclusive of 0.0 points for the last two assessments. For all the study cases, the mean difference between the M1 and M5 time points significantly differed, indicating large effect sizes.
The stimuli of physical activity in classes can promote effects on inhibitory control among children by allocating neural resources of attention via increased flexibility of the human brain's frontal lobes.
Based on the study findings, PAL promotes modest cognitive improvements among children. The results indicated that PAL-based schooling could enhance cognitive skills even among developing nations.
Moreover, physically active lessons involve encourage students to interact, which can, over the long term, increase the eagerness to learn.
However, teachers must be trained to supervise PAL tasks concerning different educational contexts. Further research is required to qualitatively examine teachers' involvement in the intervention, including larger sample sizes to evaluate other cognitive domains and ways PAL can be integrated with conventional schooling.