Cardiovascular fitness and executive functioning in primary school-aged children

Anna Meijer*, Marsh Königs, Anne G.M. de Bruijn, Chris Visscher, Roel J. Bosker, Esther Hartman, Jaap Oosterlaan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Previous research in children has shown that higher cardiovascular fitness is related to better executive functioning. However, the available literature is hampered by methodological limitations. The present study investigates the relationship between cardiovascular fitness and executive functioning in a large sample of healthy children (N = 814). Cardiovascular fitness was assessed with estimated VO2Max from 20 m Shuttle Run Test performance. Executive functioning was assessed using a set of computerized neurocognitive tasks aimed at executive functions (working memory, motor inhibition, interference control) and lower-level neurocognitive functions (information processing and attention). Dependent measures derived from the neurocognitive tests were subjected to principal component analysis. Mixed model analyses tested the relation between cardiovascular fitness and neurocognitive functioning components. Results showed that children with higher cardiovascular fitness performed better on the neurocognitive function components Information Processing and Control, Visuospatial Working Memory and Attention Efficiency. The following measures contained in these components contributed to the observed relations: information processing measures, visuospatial working memory, and speed of alerting attention. No relationship was found between cardiovascular fitness and the other components: Verbal Working Memory, Attention Accuracy, and Interference Control. The present study suggests that there is a relationship between cardiovascular fitness and a specific set of executive functions and lower level neurocognitive functions. These findings highlight the importance of cardiovascular fitness for the overall health of school-aged children.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13019
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021

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