Research Alert

Cognitive deficits are commonly found in children with autism. Research shows that exercise could be an effective intervention to lessen such deficits, yet why and how physical activity impacts cognitive function remains unclear. Investigators believed that apart from physiological factors, it’s the learning component of exercise that contributes the most to its cognitive benefits. This study aimed to test the hypothesis. The research team recruited 62 children with autism. They were randomly assigned to three groups: learning to ride a bicycle (2 weeks; 10 sessions), stationary cycling (2 weeks; 10 sessions) and control groups. Cognitive functions including planning, working memory, flexibility and inhibition were assessed. Results showed significant improvements in all cognitive functions in the learning to ride a bicycle group, but not in the other two groups. The findings highlight the value of the learning component in an exercise program and the role it plays in improving cognition in children with autism. This important finding should lead to better exercise program design for children with autism.

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