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Table 1 Descriptors of systematic reviews

From: A critical evaluation of systematic reviews assessing the effect of chronic physical activity on academic achievement, cognition and the brain in children and adolescents: a systematic review

AuthorsPopulationaNumber and design of relevant studiesAuthor’s conclusionsAMSTAR-2 ratingb
Álvarez-Bueno et al. [23]Healthy children and adolescents (4–13 years)26 intervention studies (8 non-RCT)PA benefits several aspects of academic achievement, particularly maths, reading and composite scoresCritically low (10.5)
Álvarez-Bueno et al. [38]Healthy children and adolescents (4–18 years)36 intervention studies (5 non-RCT)PA benefits several domains of non-executive, executive and meta-cognitive functions and skills, with curricular PE interventions being most effectiveCritically low (10.5)
Bustamante, Williams, and Davis [39]Overweight or obese children and/or adolescents14 intervention studies (5 non-RCT)Positive effects on cognitive and neurologic outcomes in high-quality RCTs, but all studies showing neurologic benefits were from the same groupCritically low (4.5)
de Greeff et al. [24]Primary school children (6–12 years)14 intervention studies (3 non-RCT)cPositive effects were found for physical activity on executive functions, attention and academic performance; largest effects are expected for interventions that aim for continuous regular physical activity over several weeksCritically low (8)
Gunnell et al. [27]Healthy children (1–17.99 years)49 RCTcPA is unrelated or beneficial for cognitive function (incl. academic achievement), brain function and brain structureCritically low (8)
Haapala [28]Healthy children and adolescents (7–16 years)4 RCTcReview does not support the idea that PA interventions are effective at enhancing academic performance; short intervention times (less than 36 and 64 weeks) have little effect.Critically low (3.5)
Jackson et al. [40]Healthy children (7–12 years)8 RCTIncreased regular physical activity is associated with a small and measurable improvement in neuropsychological tests of executive functions, specifically inhibitory controlCritically low (6.5)
Lees and Hopkins [29]Children and adolescents (< 19 years)4 RCTPA is positively associated with cognition and academic achievementCritically low (4.5)
Li et al. [30]Healthy adolescents (13–18 years)2 intervention studies (1 non-RCT)cPA effect on cognitive and academic performance is equivocal and limited in quantity and qualityCritically low (5.5)
Lubans et al. [41]Children (7–11 years)6 RCT (3 unique studies)There is a lack of available evidence regarding neurobiological mechanismsCritically low (5.5)
Martin et al. [31]Overweight or obese children (3–18 years)8 RCTHigh-quality evidence for composite executive functions, but not academic achievement, attention, cognitive flexibility or inhibition control; however, this evidence is based on a small number of studiesHigh (16)
Martin and Murtagh [32]Children (5–12 years)4 intervention studies(2 non-RCT)All of the studies (s = 4) reported some positive effects of physically active academic lessons on learning outcomesCritically low (5.5)
Mura et al. [33]Healthy children (3–18 years)28 intervention studies (7 non-RCT)Positive effects of PA interventions on academic achievement and cognitive performanceCritically low (3.5)
Pucher, Boot, and Vries [34]School-aged children4 intervention studies (3 non-RCT)No negative effects of PA on academic performance and some positive effectsCritically low (5.5)
Singh et al. [25]Healthy children and adolescents (3–16 years)11 high-quality intervention studies (3 non-RCT; out of 58 interventions)Inconclusive evidence for beneficial effects of PA on cognitive or academic performance, but strong evidence for beneficial effects on maths performanceLow (10.5)
Spruit et al. [26]Children and adolescents (mean age 11–18)10 intervention studies (3 non-RCT), including dissertationsPA interventions are effective in improving academic performanceCritically low (4.5)
Suarez-Manzano et al. [36]Children and adolescents with ADHD (6–18 years)7 intervention studies (1 non-RCT)Systematic PA (≥ 30 min per day, ≥ 40%, intensity, ≥ three days per week, ≥ five weeks) further improves attention and inhibitionCritically low (4.5)
Vazou et al. [35]Typically developing children and adolescents (4–16 years)27 intervention studies (3 non-RCT)PA interventions have a positive impact on cognition, but more research is neededCritically low (3.5)
Verburgh et al. [37]Children and adolescents (6–17), but one study in young adults5 RCTcInconsistent results regarding the effects of exercise on executive functionsCritically low (7.5)
  1. Abbreviations: PA physical activity, PE physical education, RCT randomised controlled trial
  2. aAge range taken from inclusion criteria unless a more specific range was provided
  3. bThe AMSTAR-2 confidence rating (critically low, low, medium or high) is reported, followed by the overall score. The overall score is added to acknowledge the inter-review variability in quality, but is not used in the synthesis of findings as recommended by Shea et al. [22]
  4. cThis review also includes acute PA studies which have been excluded from this count