Effects of aerobic and cognitively-engaging physical activity on academic skills: A cluster randomized controlled trial

Anne G.M. De Bruijn*, Danny D.N.M. Kostons, Irene M.J. Van Der Fels, Chris Visscher, Jaap Oosterlaan, Esther Hartman, Roel J. Bosker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This cluster randomized controlled trial (trial-number #) compares effects of two school-based physical activity interventions (aerobic vs. cognitively-engaging) on reading, mathematics, and spelling achievement; and whether effects are influenced by volume of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and baseline achievement. Twenty-two primary schools participated, where a third and fourth grade class were randomly assigned to the intervention or control group. Intervention groups were randomly assigned to a 14-week aerobic or cognitively-engaging intervention, receiving four physical education lessons a week. Control groups followed their regular physical education program. Academic achievement of 891 children (mean age 9.17 years, 49.4% boys) was assessed with standardized tests before and after the interventions. Post-Test academic achievement did not significantly differ between intervention groups and control group. A higher volume of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity resulted in better post-test mathematics achievement in both intervention groups, and post-test spelling achievement in the cognitively engaging intervention group. Compared to the control group, lower achievers in reading performed better in reading after the cognitively-engaging intervention. A combination of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and cognitively-engaging exercises seems to have the most beneficial effects. Future intervention studies should take into account quantitative and qualitative aspects of physical activity, and children’s baseline academic achievement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1806-1817
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Sports Sciences
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 2 Aug 2020
Externally publishedYes

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