To synthesise randomised controlled trials (RCTs) regarding the effects of chronic exercise interventions on different domain-specific executive functions (EFs) among children and adolescents.
Systematic review with meta-analysis.DATA SOURCES: PsycINFO, PubMed, SPORTDiscus, Academic Search Premier, Embase and Web of Science were searched.
ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA FOR SELECTING STUDIES:
RCTs or cluster RCT design, which employ chronic exercise interventions and target healthy children (age 6-12 years) and adolescents (age 13-17 years). We defined chronic exercise as physical activity (PA) which consists of multiple exercise sessions per week and lasts for an extended period of time (typically over 6 weeks).
We included 19 studies, with a total of 5038 participants. The results showed that chronic exercise interventions improved overall EFs (standardised mean difference (SMD)=0.20, 95% CI 0.09 to 0.30, p<0.05) and inhibitory control (SMD=0.26, 95% CI 0.08 to 0.45, P<0.05). In meta regression, higher body mass index was associated with greater improvements in overall EFs performance (beta=0.03, 95% CI 0.0002 to 0.06, p<0.05), whereas age and exercise duration were not. In subgroup analysis by intervention modality, sports and PA programme (SMD=0.21, 95% CI 0.12 to 0.31, p<0.05) and curricular PA (SMD=0.39, 95% CI 0.08 to 0.69, p<0.05) improved overall EFs performance, but integrated PA did not (SMD=0.02, 95% CI -0.05 to 0.09, p>0.05). Interventions with a session length < 90 minutes improved overall EFs performance (SMD=0.24, 95%CI 0.10 to 0.39, p=0.02), but session length >= 90 minutes did not (SMD=0.05, 95%CI -0.03 to 0.14). No other moderator was found to have an effect.
Despite small effect sizes, chronic exercise interventions, implemented in curricular or sports and PA programme settings, might be a promising way to promote multiple aspects of executive functions, especially inhibitory control.
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