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Muscular and Aerobic Fitness, Working Memory, and Academic Achievement in Children

KAO, SHIH-CHUN; WESTFALL, DANIEL R.; PARKS, ANDREW C.; PONTIFEX, MATTHEW B.; HILLMAN, CHARLES H.

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: March 2017 - Volume 49 - Issue 3 - p 500–508
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001132
Applied Sciences

Purpose: This study investigated the relationship between aerobic and muscular fitness with working memory and academic achievement in preadolescent children.

Methods: Seventy-nine 9- to 11-yr-old children completed an aerobic fitness assessment using a graded exercise test; a muscular fitness assessment consisting of upper body, lower body, and core exercises; a serial n-back task to assess working memory; and an academic achievement test of mathematics and reading.

Results: Hierarchical regression analyses indicated that after controlling for demographic variables (age, sex, grade, IQ, socioeconomic status), aerobic fitness was associated with greater response accuracy and d′ in the 2-back condition and increased mathematic performance in algebraic functions. Muscular fitness was associated with increased response accuracy and d′, and longer reaction time in the 2-back condition. Further, the associations of muscular fitness with response accuracy and d′ in the 2-back condition were independent of aerobic fitness.

Conclusion: The current findings suggest the differential relationships between the aerobic and the muscular aspects of physical fitness with working memory and academic achievement. With the majority of research focusing on childhood health benefits of aerobic fitness, this study suggests the importance of muscular fitness to cognitive health during preadolescence.

1Department of Kinesiology and Community Health, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, IL; 2Department of Psychology, Northeastern University, Boston, MA; 3Department of Kinesiology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI; and 4Department of Health Sciences, Northeastern University, Boston, MA

Address for correspondence: Shih-Chun Kao, M.Ed., Department of Kinesiology and Community Health, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, 316 Louise Freer Hall, 906 South Goodwin Avenue, Urbana, IL 61801; E-mail: skao5@illinois.edu.

Submitted for publication April 2016.

Accepted for publication October 2016.

© 2017 American College of Sports Medicine