A growing body of literature examines the relationship between physical activity (PA) with executive functions (EF) and academic achievement in children and adolescents. The present study aimed at examining how multiple components in a whole-school PA policy intervention in a primary school setting affected the EF (i.e. working memory and inhibition) of students. The PA policy had three components, Physical Education (PE), Structured Play (SP) and Unstructured Play (UP).
Testing of EF for working memory and inhibition was carried out with a sample of 43 students from the 4th and 6th class before and after each component of the PA policy, once a week for four weeks, after a one-week pilot. Children’s working memory was measured with a verbal visual memory test using curriculum-based vocabulary, while their inhibition was assessed through the Animal Stroop-like test. The effect of each component of the PA intervention on working memory and
inhibition was analysed with two separate repeated measures MANOVA, controlling gender and class as between-subject factors. For both working memory and inhibition, PE was more beneficial for all students comparing to SP and UP (p<.001). Regarding inhibition, no gender and class differences were observed. However, for working memory there were higher improvements for 4th class comparing to 6th class students (p<.05). PE appeared to be more beneficial for improving students’ EF and is suggested to be prioritised when developing PA policy in schools. Further research is warranted with longitudinal studies.