Physical activity, executive function and academic performance



Place: Aud. Innsikt. Prøveforelesning: Review and discuss the scientific literature about 1) children's physical and mental development, and 2) how different lines of research explain the effect of physical activity on this development.

Formal title

Indices of physical activity, executive function and academic performance among 10-year-old school children: cross-sectional, prospective, and intervention findings from The Active Smarter Kids (ASK) school-based cluster-randomized controlled trial.


To investigate the relationships for indices of physical activity (physical activity, aerobic fitness, and motor skills) to executive functions and academic performance, and furthermore examine if the potential effects of physical activity on academic performance was mediated by improvement in executive function. 


This thesis is part of the Active Smarter Kids (ASK) study; a multicomponent cluster-randomized controlled trial, including 1129 fifth grade children (10-year-olds) from 57 elementary schools in the county of Sogn og Fjordane in Norway. The intervention lasted seven months, and consisted of three components, generating an additional of 165 minutes/week of physical activity: (1) physical active educational lessons, (2) physical activity breaks during the classroom lessons, and (3) physical activity homework (see homepage The study is registered in NCT02132494.


Reviews have shown small effects of physical activity on both executive function and academic performance. In the present study, no intervention effects were observed for neither executive function nor academic performance. However, in sub-group analyses, an effect of the intervention was observed for numeracy for those children in the lowest tertile in numeracy at baseline. As such, it is possible that the alternative didactic approach the ASK intervention represents, can potentially raise the academic performance of the children most in need, which is an important finding. Furthermore, per protocol analyses showed significant intervention effects on executive functions and motor skills. Motor skills were associated with executive functions and academic performance cross-sectionally and prospectively, whereas this was not the case for objectively measured physical activity. These findings might indicate that motor challenging activities are a premise for physical activity to affect executive function and academic performance. No analyses supported that executive function mediated the relation between indices of physical activity and academic performance. 


Aadland, K. N., Moe, V. F., Aadland, E., Anderssen, S. A., Resaland, G. K., & Ommundsen, Y. (2017). Relationships between physical activity, sedentary time, aerobic fitness, motor skills and executive function and academic performance in children. Mental Health and Physical Activity, 12, 10-18. doi:10.1016/j.mhpa.2017.01.001

Aadland, K. N., Ommundsen, Y., Anderssen, S. A., Brønnick, K. S., Moe, V. F., Resaland, G. K., . . Aadland, E. (2017). Effects of the Active Smarter Kids (ASK) Physical Activity School-based Intervention on Executive Functions: A Cluster-Randomized Controlled Trial. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 1-15. doi:10.1080/00313831.2017.1336477

Resaland, G. K., Aadland, E., Moe, V. F., Aadland, K. N., Skrede, T., Stavnsbo, M., . . . Anderssen, S. A. (2016). Effects of physical activity on schoolchildren's academic performance: The Active Smarter Kids (ASK) cluster-randomized controlled trial. Preventive Medicine, 91, 322-328. doi:

Aadland, K. N., Ommundsen, Y., Aadland, E., Brønnick, K. S., Lervåg, A., Resaland, G. K., & Moe, V. F. (2017). Executive Functions Do Not Mediate Prospective Relations between Indices of Physical Activity and Academic Performance: The Active Smarter Kids (ASK) Study. Frontiers in Psychology, 8(1088). doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01088

Aadland, K. N., Aadland, E., Andersen, J.R., Lervåg, A., Moe, V.F., Resaland, G. K., & Ommundsen, Y. (Akseptert). Does self-regulation mediate the relationship between school-based physical activity and academic performance in numeracy in ten-year-old children?

The ASK-study was funded by The Research Council of Norway (grant number 221047/F40), Gjensidige-stiftelsen (grant number 1042294), the former Sogn og Fjordane University College –now a part of the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, and the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences.