OBJECTIVES: To use a quantitative approach to examine the effects of chronic physical activity (PA) interventions on executive functions (EFs) in children aged 3-7 years.DESIGN: Systematic review and meta-analysis.
METHODS: PubMed, EMBASE, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, PsycINFO, and the China National Knowledge Infrastructure were searched from their inception to December 2019. Intervention studies with a control group that examined the effects of chronic PA interventions on EFs among children aged 3-7 years were included in this meta-analysis. Lastly, subgroup analyses were conducted to examine the potential modifying effects of chronic PA intervention's characteristics and study quality.
RESULTS: A total of 10 studies were included in this meta-analysis with a total of 716 participants. The fixed-effects model was used to estimate the pooled effect sizes since heterogeneity across included studies was not significant. The summary effects revealed that chronic PA interventions have a small but positive effects on participants' overall EFs [standardized mean difference (SMD)=0.35, 95% CI: 0.20-0.50] as well as inhibition (SMD=0.37, 95% CI: 0.12-0.62) and working memory (SMD=0.24, 95% CI: 0.02-0.46) domains and a moderate effect on the cognitive flexibility domain (SMD=0.66, 95% CI: 0.28-1.05). Lastly, the pooled effect was not significantly modified by intervention duration, session length, or frequency.
CONCLUSIONS: Chronic PA interventions, especially PA plus cognitive challenges interventions, may be a promising way to promote the development of multiple aspects of EFs in children aged 3-7 years.
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