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Introduction: Identifying a dose of physical activity (PA) that can improve cognitive function in children has important implications for school-day PA recommendations. Researchers and educators have interest in this link as it relates to both health and academic performance. This study examined the dose-response relationship between PA and improvement in cognition in a sample of fifth and sixth grade students.

Methods: Participants (n = 156) from eight classes each completed two of four different cognitive assessments on an iPad, both before and after exposure to one of four randomized, 10-min PA conditions (sedentary, light, moderate, and vigorous). Conditions were standardized through use of videos to lead movement, and participants wore accelerometers to confirm fidelity to PA condition. The four cognitive assessments were selected from the NIH Toolbox Cognition Battery, and included Dimensional Change Card Sort, Flanker, Pattern Comparison, and Picture Sequence Memory tests. Hierarchical linear regression models were used to estimate the effects of condition on each test using an intention to treat analysis.

Results: Fidelity to PA condition was acceptable for sedentary and light conditions, but became less precise for moderate and vigorous conditions. No significant time by condition interaction was observed for any of the cognitive assessment scores.

Conclusions: Results did not substantiate a dose-response link between PA intensity and selected measures of cognitive function. More research is needed to investigate the potentially nuanced effects of short bouts of PA on cognitive functioning in children.