Objective: Perform a systematic review of the available literature regarding the effectiveness of exercise interventions on children with any type of social, emotional, or behavioral disability (SEBD), with attention to a range of physiological, behavioral, and mood outcomes.
Methods: Six databases were searched using a systematic methodology. References of included studies, as well as relevant reviews, were also examined. The review was limited to studies published since 2000 reporting a quantitative analysis of the effects of a physical activity (PA) intervention on at least 1 behavioral, psychological, or cognitive outcome in children aged 21 and under, diagnosed with a SEBD. Only studies with a control group were included.
Results: We identified 24 eligible studies. Studies varied in design, participant characteristics, and intervention characteristics (single-bout vs repeated exposure, duration, intensity level, mode of exercise). Of the 20 behavioral outcome assessments, there was 1 negative finding, 12 null findings, 5 positive findings, and 2 mixed findings. For the 25 executive functioning outcome assessments, there were 5 null findings, 18 positive findings, and 2 mixed findings. For the remaining outcome domains, 1 of 2 studies looking at academic performance, 3 of 6 studies looking at objective neurological measures, and 1 of 3 studies looking at affect outcomes found positive results. All other results were null or mixed.
Conclusion: Although additional research is warranted to further understand the mechanisms by which PA affects behavioral and cognitive outcome measures in children with SEBDs, PA offers a safe and alternative form of treatment for this population.
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