Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society


A Review of the Relation of Aerobic Fitness and Physical Activity to Brain Structure and Function in Children

Laura Chaddocka1a2, Matthew B. Pontifexa3, Charles H. Hillmana2a3 and Arthur F. Kramera1a2 c1

a1 Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois

a2 Beckman Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois

a3 Department of Kinesiology & Community Health, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois


A growing number of schools have increasingly de-emphasized the importance of providing physical activity opportunities during the school day, despite emerging research that illustrates the deleterious relationship between low levels of aerobic fitness and neurocognition in children. Accordingly, a brief review of studies that link fitness-related differences in brain structure and brain function to cognitive abilities is provided herein. Overall, the extant literature suggests that childhood aerobic fitness is associated with higher levels of cognition and differences in regional brain structure and function. Indeed, it has recently been found that aerobic fitness level even predicts cognition over time. Given the paucity of work in this area, several avenues for future investigations are also highlighted. (JINS, 2011, 17, 975–985)

(Received December 23 2010)

(Revised March 16 2011)

(Accepted March 17 2011)


  • Academic achievement;
  • Cognition;
  • Cognitive control;
  • ERPs;
  • Exercise;
  • MRI;
  • Plasticity


c1 Correspondence and reprint requests to: Arthur F. Kramer, Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 405 North Mathews Avenue, Urbana, IL 61801. E-mail: