Studies of relationships between physical activity and children's attention skills are often constrained by small samples, lack of objective measurements and lack of control for confounders. The present study explores the relationship using objective measures of physical activity from a large birth cohort which permits both longitudinal and cross-sectional analyses. Data from 4755 participants (45% male) with valid measurement of physical activity (total volume and intensity) by accelerometry at age 11 from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (UK) were analysed. Attention was evaluated by the Test of Everyday Attention for Children (TEA-Ch) at 11 years and by the Cognitive Drug Research (CDR) computerised cognitive assessment system at 13 years. Males engaged in an average of 29 min (SD 17) of daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) at age 11 years compared with 18 min (SD 12) among females. In unadjusted models, higher total volume of physical activity was associated with lower performance across attention tasks. When total volume of physical activity and potential confounding variables were controlled for, higher MVPA was associated with better performance at both 11 and 13 years. Correction for regression dilution approximately doubled the standardised β coefficients. We observed complex associations but results suggest that MVPA may be beneficial for attention processes in adolescence, especially in males. This has implications for interventions aimed at improving executive attention but may also be supportive of the benefits of physical activity for educational and mental health outcomes.
- physical activity
- executive function