The positive impact of physical activity on working memory abilities: Evidence from a large Italian pre-adolescent sample



Cognitive function, Physical exercise, Sports activity, Schoolchildren


Physical activity (PA) is an essential component of people's well-being. Copious evidence argues for its protective effect across individuals' lifespan. However, its role as a factor of enhancement for human cognitive skills is still a matter of study. The present work aims to provide conclusive evidence about PA's role in modulating working memory skills in active pre-adolescent children. By enrolling a large number of participants, we tested the effect of PA on Digit Span Backwards (DSB), a well-consolidated test taxing primarily short-term auditory memory, i.e., less dependent on attention fluctuations. Higher working memory capacity was assumed to emerge in the participants practising PA compared to the less active ones. Moreover, due to the different activities participants reported to practice, we expected that children practising open-skill activities manifested better memory skills than the peers practising closed-skill activities, due to the intrinsic nature of the two forms of exercises. Data supported the previous hypothesis highlighting PA's positive effect; however, they did not keep the assumed differences for open vs closed skills. Results are discussed in the light of the cognitive efforts required to sport beginners, particularly in the light of what they are prompted to code, remember and recall in each step of the proposed exercises.


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Russo, G., Ottoboni, G., Tessari, A., & Ceciliani, A. (2021). The positive impact of physical activity on working memory abilities: Evidence from a large Italian pre-adolescent sample. Journal of Human Sport and Exercise, 16(2proc), S277-S288. Retrieved from

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