The relation of childhood physical activity and aerobic fitness to brain function and cognition: A review

Naiman A. Khan, Charles H. Hillman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Physical inactivity has been shown to increase the risk for several chronic diseases across the lifespan. However, the impact of physical activity and aerobic fitness on childhood cognitive and brain health has only recently gained attention. The purposes of this article are to: 1) highlight the recent emphasis for increasing physical activity and aerobic fitness in children's lives for cognitive and brain health; 2) present aspects of brain development and cognitive function that are susceptible to physical activity intervention; 3)reviewneuroimaging studies examining the cross-sectional and experimental relationships between aerobic fitness andexecutive control function; and 4) make recommendations for future research. Given that the human brain is not fully developed until the third decade of life, preadolescence is characterized by changes in brain structureand function underlying aspects of cognition including executive control and relational memory. Achieving adequate physical activity and maintaining aerobic fitness in childhood may be a critical guideline tofollow for physical as well as cognitive and brain health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)138-146
Number of pages9
JournalPediatric Exercise Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2014


  • Executive function
  • Pediatrics
  • Relational memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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