The relationship of health behaviors to childhood cognition and brain health

Charles H. Hillman, Naiman A. Khan, Shih Chun Kao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Physical activity and aerobic fitness have been shown to have positive implications for children's cognitive performance and brain structure and function. In addition, emerging evidence suggests that excess body mass is related to decreased cognitive performance and differential brain structure and function. Recently, several randomized controlled trials have provided causal evidence for the beneficial effects of daily physical activity on cognition and its neural underpinnings. However, the data linking excess body mass to compromised cognitive function are largely correlational since trials that manipulate body mass to determine changes in brain and cognition remain sparse. Such studies are sorely needed to provide strong evidence for the relation of childhood health behaviors to not only physical, but brain health as well. Summary: This manuscript provides a brief review of the current literature on physical activity and excess body mass on brain structure, brain function, and an aspect of cognition known as executive control, which refers to cognitive processes involved in the intentional component of environmental interaction. Generally, the findings indicate that daily physical activity or higher aerobic fitness is related to greater volume and integrity of brain structure, efficient and effective brain function, and superior executive control. Alternatively, excess body mass is related to decreased integrity of brain structure, less effective brain function, and poorer executive control. Key Messages: The findings have considerable implications for lifespan health and effective functioning, and demonstrate that childhood health behaviors have implications not only for cognitive and brain health but also for scholastic performance and educational attainment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-4
Number of pages4
JournalAnnals of Nutrition and Metabolism
StatePublished - Jun 23 2015


  • Academic performance
  • Adiposity
  • Cognitive control
  • Executive control
  • Fitness
  • Obesity
  • Physical activity
  • Scholastic achievement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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