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Preschoolers with higher cardiorespiratory fitness do better on cognitive tests

Research shows that 4-6-year-old children who walk further than their peers during a timed test - a method used to estimate cardiorespiratory health - also do better on cognitive tests and other measures of brain function. A new study suggests that the link between cardiorespiratory fitness and cognitive health is evident even earlier in life than previously appreciated.

Most studies on the link between fitness and brain health focus on adults or preadolescent or adolescent children. Such research has consistently found positive correlations between people's aerobic exercise capacity and their academic achievement and cognitive abilities, she said. Studies have found that higher cardiorespiratory fitness in older children and adults corresponds to the relative size and connectivity of brain structures that are important to cognitive control.

Previous reports suggest that, just like older children and adults, preschoolers are failing to meet daily recommended guidelines for physical activity.

To better understand the relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and brain health in 59 preschool-aged children, the researchers subjected them to several tests. The children walked as far as they could in six minutes, a test that allowed researchers to estimate their cardiorespiratory fitness.

An early cognitive and academic development test gave the team a measure of each child's intellectual abilities, and a computerized "flanker" task measured how well they were able to focus on the important part of an image while ignoring distracting information. Participants also took part in a computerized task that required them to alter their responses depending on whether flowers or hearts appeared on the screen -- a measure of mental flexibility.

A subset of 33 children also engaged in an auditory task that required them to respond to certain sounds and not others while wearing an EEG cap. The EEG measured electrical activity during the cognitive control task.

Statistical analyses revealed a relationship between the children's physical fitness and their cognitive abilities and brain function, the researchers said.


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