Working Memory, Inhibition, Whole-School Physical Activity, Exercise, Cognition, Intervention
Purpose: Research continuously reports a close connection between Physical Activity (PA) and its effect on pupils’ Executive Functions (EF). Thus, the purpose of the present study was to expand previous knowledge and examine the acute effects on the EF – working memory and inhibition – in two primary level class cohorts (4th class: n = 20 students, mean age 9.95 ± .39 years; 6th class: n = 23 students, mean age 12.00 ± .30 years; 22 boys, 21 girls) of a school-based PA policy in a four-week design intervention programme. Methods: The PA policy included Physical Education (PE), Structured Play (SP) and Unstructured Play (UP). Testing of EF was carried out with a Working Memory Test and an Animal Stroop Test, before and after each session of each PA policy component. To determine whether each component of the PA intervention had an effect on working memory and inhibition, two separate repeated measures multivariate analysis of variance, controlling for gender and class as between-subject factors. Results: Results showed that the PE intervention improved more students’ working memory (3.49% increase), comparing to SP (p = .002, η2 = .057) and UP (p < .001, η2 = .077) interventions. Furthermore, the PE intervention improved more students’ inhibition (3.57% increase), comparing to SP (p = .001, η2 = .074) and UP (p < .001, η2
= .105) interventions. No gender and class differences were observed. Discussion: While whole school PA policies need to focus on all PA components and provide schoolbased opportunities to meet PA recommendations to benefit health in general, PE appears to be more beneficial for improving most students’ EF. Based on this finding, it is suggested that structured PE to be prioritised when
developing PA policy in schools. Potential causes on the differences direct the conclusion towards school based PA policy recommendations.