Chinese Journal of Rehabilitation Theory and Practice ›› 2023, Vol. 29 ›› Issue (1): 20-29.doi: 10.3969/j.issn.1006-9771.2023.01.004

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Effect of physical activity on executive function of children and adolescents: a systematic review

WANG Yu, HE Gang, LI Dongsheng, MA Kaiyue, WANG Chao()   

  1. School of Kinesiology and Health, Capital University of Physical Education and Sports, Beijing 100191, China
  • Received:2022-10-01 Revised:2022-12-19 Online:2023-01-25 Published:2023-02-17
  • Contact: WANG Chao, E-mail:
  • Supported by:
    Beijing Chaoyang District Social Development Science and Technology Plan(CYSF2010);Beijing Higher Education Undergraduate Teaching Reform Innovation Project(201910029003)


Objective To analyze the effect of physical activity on executive function of children and adolescents, and sort out the related factors.

Methods Articles about physical activity intervention for children and adolescents on executive function were retrieved from CNKI, Wanfang Data, Google Scholar, Wiley Online Library and PubMed, from January 1st, 2010 to June 30th, 2021. The articles were screened, evaluated and systematically reviewed.

Results A total of 21 articles were included, from eleven countries, including 13 randomized controlled trials, involving 2 496 subjects, aged five to 18 years. The articles were published from 2010 to 2019, with mean score of Physiotherapy Evidence Database scale as 5.57. The physical activity intervention mainly involved physical fitness, skills and sport games, with low to high intensity, eight to 120 minutes a time, one to five times a week, no more than ten months. Physical activity was indicated to improve the executive function, specifically inhibition control, working memory and cognitive flexibility, such as the improvement of the accuracy and reaction time of cognitive tasks, and activation of bilateral prefrontal cortex activity. Types, intensity, duration, frequency and cycle of physical activity, participant selection, and assessment tools were related to the effect of intervention.

Conclusion Physical activity can improve the inhibition control, working memory and cognitive flexibility of children and adolescents. The main factors related to the intervention effect are the physical activity elements, the participant's factors and the experimental design factors.

Key words: physical activity, executive function, children, adolescents, systematic review

CLC Number: