2013 - Research

Influence of Childhood Aerobic Fitness on Learning and Memory

Researchers investigated the relationship between aerobic fitness, learning, and memory on a task that involved remembering names and locations on a fictitious map. Different learning strategies and recall procedures were employed to better understand fitness effects on learning novel material.

  • There is a growing trend of inactivity among children, which may not only result in poorer physical health, but also poorer cognitive health. Previous research has shown that lower fitness has been related to decreased cognitive function for tasks requiring perception, memory, and cognitive control as well as lower academic achievement.
  • Researchers investigated the relationship between aerobic fitness, learning, and memory on a task that involved remembering names and locations on a fictitious map. Different learning strategies and recall procedures were employed to better understand fitness effects on learning novel material.
  • Forty-eight 9–10 year old children (n = 24 high fit; HF and n = 24 low fit; LF) performed a task requiring them to learn the names of specific regions on a map, under two learning conditions in which they only studied (SO) versus a condition in which they were tested during study (TS). The retention day occurred one day after initial learning and involved two different recall conditions: free recall and cued recall.
  • Results:  There were no differences in performance at initial learning between higher fit and lower fit participants. However, during the retention session higher fit children outperformed lower fit children, particularly when the initial learning strategy involved relatively poor recall performance (i.e., study only versus test-study strategy).
  • Conclusions:  We interpret these novel data to suggest that fitness can boost learning and memory of children and that these fitness-associated performance benefits are largest in conditions in which initial learning is the most challenging. Such data have important implications for both educational practice and policy.

Raine LB, Lee HK, Saliba BJ, Chaddock-Heyman L, Hillman CH, et al. . (2013). The Influence of Childhood Aerobic Fitness on Learning and Memory. PLoS ONE, 8(9), e72666. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0072666