The role of BMI on cognition following acute physical activity in preadolescent children

Lauren B. Raine, Shih Chun Kao, Eric S. Drollette, Matthew B. Pontifex, Dominika Pindus, Jennifer Hunt, Arthur F. Kramer, Charles H. Hillman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: There is an increasing prevalence of physical inactivity during childhood, concurrent with a rise in obesity rates, which is associated with a variety of health problems. However, the extent to which increased body mass index (BMI) influences acute physical activity (PA) benefits on cognition in childhood remains unknown. The aim of this study was to examine whether BMI influences the effects of acute PA on inhibitory control task performance. Methods: In a sample of 116 children pooled from four prior studies (ages 8-11; 51 females), demographic measures of age, sex, IQ, socioeconomic status, and aerobic fitness were considered along with BMI. Children participated in a counterbalanced, randomized crossover study, whereby they completed two different interventions; 20 minutes of treadmill walking (60-70% heart rate max) and restful reading (non-exercise control). Following each intervention, children performed a modified flanker task that manipulates inhibitory control demands. Correlations were conducted to determine the influence of demographic variables, fitness, and BMI on inhibitory control following each intervention. Subsequent hierarchical regression analyses were performed with significant demographic factors in the first step, aerobic fitness in the second step when significant, and BMI in the final step. Results: Analyses indicated that children exhibited improved task performance (p's ≤ 0.001) and decreased interference (p = 0.04) following the walking intervention compared to the restful reading control condition, indicating greater benefits following acute PA across task condition, with selectively greater benefits for the task condition requiring greater inhibitory control. Regression analyses revealed that greater BMI was related to decreased performance following acute PA (p = 0.001); an association not observed following restful reading (p's ≥ 0.11). These results suggest that BMI negatively influences the effect of acute exercise on performance. Conclusion: Confirming previous studies, these findings indicate beneficial effects of acute PA on a flanker task that modulates inhibitory control requirements, but the effects are significantly greater for task conditions requiring greater amounts of inhibitory control. Further, these beneficial effects of PA appear to be blunted in children with higher BMI. These findings suggest that the acute benefits of PA on cognition may not be fully realized in children with higher BMI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100143
JournalTrends in Neuroscience and Education
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Acute exercise
  • Body mass index
  • Inhibition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Education
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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