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Physical activity may strengthen children's ability to pay attention
Date:3/31/2009

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. As school districts across the nation revamped curricula to meet requirements of the federal "No Child Left Behind" Act, opportunities for children to be physically active during the school day diminished significantly.

Future mandates, however, might be better served by taking into account findings from a University of Illinois study suggesting the academic benefits of physical education classes, recess periods and after-school exercise programs. The research, led by Charles Hillman, a professor of kinesiology and community health and the director of the Neurocognitive Kinesiology Laboratory at Illinois, suggests that physical activity may increase students' cognitive control or ability to pay attention and also result in better performance on academic achievement tests.

"The goal of the study was to see if a single acute bout of moderate exercise walking was beneficial for cognitive function in a period of time afterward," Hillman said. "This question has been asked before by our lab and others, in young adults and older adults, but it's never been asked in children. That's why it's an important question."

For each of three testing criteria, researchers noted a positive outcome linking physical activity, attention and academic achievement.

Study participants were 9-year-olds (eight girls, 12 boys) who performed a series of stimulus-discrimination tests known as flanker tasks, to assess their inhibitory control.

On one day, students were tested following a 20-minute resting period; on another day, after a 20-minute session walking on a treadmill. Students were shown congruent and incongruent stimuli on a screen and asked to push a button to respond to incongruencies. During the testing, students were outfitted with an electrode cap to measure electroencephalographic (EEG) activity.

"What we found is that following the acute bout of walking, children performed better on the flanker
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Contact: Melissa Mitchell
melissa@illinois.edu
217-333-5491
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert

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