Classroom physical activity and cognitive function among children
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In an era of declining physical activity (PA) among children, schools are positioned to provide PA opportunities within and beyond the school day. The recent call for greater alignment between education and health outcomes within a whole-of-school approach positions the classroom as a possible place to increase children’s PA. Along with health benefits, PA has been associated with increased cognitive performance in children. However, research on the relationship of classroom PA and cognition in a classroom setting has received little attention. Therefore, within this dissertation, three studies were conducted and together represent a process evaluation for using PA videos in classrooms. Study 1 investigated the implementation strategies and the number and intensity of PA opportunities offered by classroom teachers. Mixed methods, including interviews, observations, accelerometers, and survey measures were utilized to identify teacher profiles for classroom PA implementation. Findings suggest three distinct teacher profiles in offering PA in the classroom. Study 2 explored the effects of an acute bout of classroom PA on cognitive components of executive function (EF) and math performance. Students completed cognitive tasks measuring math performance, the speed of information processing and cognitive flexibility (Trail Making Test; TMT-A, TMT-B) and working memory (visual memory task) pre/post exercise. No group differences were detected between high and low-intensity groups. Study 3 examined the cognitive effects of sustained classroom PA. Children’s cognitive assessment scores (mathematics, TMT-B, visual memory) in high- and low-usage PA classrooms were compared over the school year. Children in classrooms consisting of high-usage PA demonstrated significantly greater improvement in mathematics performance compared to their peers in the lower-usage group. Taken together, findings from this dissertation suggest that many teachers are initially apprehensive about classroom PA, yet some have overcome fears of implementation and now offer students multiple bouts of daily PA. Frequent PA opportunities across a school year may improve children’s perception of class climate and performance on specific cognitive tasks.