The aim was to provide a meta-analysis of studies investigating the effects of physical activity interventions on cognitive outcomes and academic performance in adolescents or young adults. A systematic review with meta-analysis was performed using the following databases: Embase, ERIC, MEDLINE, PsycINFO and Web of Science. Studies had to meet the following criteria: controlled study design, investigating the effects of physical activity interventions on cognitive outcomes and academic performance in healthy adolescents or young adults (12-30 years). Results showed that acute interventions (n=44) significantly improved processing speed (ES=0.39), attention (ES=0.34) and, inhibition (ES=0.32). In a subsequent meta-regression, shorter duration of intervention was significantly associated with greater improvements in attention (β=-0.02) and cognitive flexibility (β=-0.04), whereas age, percentage of boys, intensity and dose were not. Chronic interventions (n=27) significantly improved processing speed (ES=0.30), attention (ES=0.50), cognitive flexibility (ES=0.19), working memory (ES=0.59) and language skills (ES=0.31). In the meta-regression, higher percentage of boys was significantly associated with greater improvements in attention (β=0.02) and working memory (β=0.01) whereas age, duration, frequency, dose and load were not. In conclusion, acute and chronic physical activity interventions might be a promising way to improve several cognitive outcomes and language skills in adolescents and young adults.
Keywords: Cognition; academic achievement; acute exercise intervention; chronic exercise intervention.
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