Researchers exploring the links between physical activity and learning

5 Feb 2014

The association between physical activity and learning has been evidenced in many studies. The results have suggested that being physically active produces positive effects on many cognitive functions, such as memory, attention, information processing and problem solving. Unfortunately, these previous studies have used fairly small datasets and have yielded fairly little information on the actual underlying mechanisms.

Now, a research project included in the Academy of Finland’s research programme The Future of Learning, Knowledge and Skills is set to investigate the association between physical activity and academic achievement further. More specifically, the project, entitled Active, Fit and Smart (AFIS), will look into the links between physical activity, fitness and the cognitive prerequisites of learning and into the mechanisms influencing these links.

The project is headed by Research Director Tuija Tammelin from LIKES - Research Center for Sport and Health Sciences. Tammelin explains the project’s premise: “We know that the infantile and adolescent brain is still developing and taking shape. Our aim is to explore how physical activity and fitness are linked to academic achievement, cognitive functions, brain properties and executive functions at different ages, both in children and adults.”

The multidisciplinary research consortium consists of three subprojects, each with a specific approach. The first subproject looks at how changes in physical activity and fitness affect cognitive function, academic achievement and educational attainment at different stages of a person’s life. Here, the researchers will make use of material from extensive population-based cohort studies.

The second subproject will investigate the associations of lifelong physical activity or inactivity with the structural and functional properties of the brain. The third and final subproject uses animal models to study how both intrinsic and acquired fitness affect learning ability and what the underlying mechanisms are.

The organisations behind the project include the LIKES Research Centre and the Department of Psychology and the Department of Biology of Physical Activity at the University of Jyväskylä. The project is expected to generate important basic research knowledge on the cognitive prerequisites of learning. The results will be of benefit to both practitioners and policymakers in sports, education and public health.

The Academy of Finland’s research programme The Future of Learning, Knowledge and Skills (TULOS) is aimed at generating new knowledge on the demands arising from changes in society to learning, skills and teaching. The programme’s themes also include developing learning analytics and multilevel assessment of learning as well as creating opportunities for future learning environments. The programme’s overall budget is EUR 10 million. The funding will be divided between eleven research projects comprising 19 teams. The programme is set to run from 2014 to 2017.

More information:

Research Director Tuija Tammelin (consortium leader), LIKES – Research Center for Sport and Health Sciences, Jyväskylä,  tuija.tammelin(at)likes.fi, tel. +358 207 629 503

Research Director Tiina Parviainen, Department of Psychology, Centre for Interdisciplinary Brain Research, University of Jyväskylä, tiina.m.parviainen(at)jyu.fi, tel. +358 40 805 3533

Professor Heikki Kainulainen, Department of Biology of Physical Activity, University of Jyväskylä, heikki.kainulainen(at)jyu.fi, tel. +358 50 330 2901

TULOS research programme: Programme Manager Risto Vilkko, Academy of Finland, tel. +358 295 335 136, firstname.lastname(at)aka.fi

 www.aka.fi/tulos > In English


Academy of Finland Communications
Communications Manager Riitta Tirronen
tel. +358 295 335 118
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Last changed 11/02/2014