Physical Activity in Children Tied to Increased Brain Volume

Physical Activity in Children Tied to Increased Brain Volume


More physical activity in late childhood is associated with an increase in brain volume in regions involved in cognition, emotion, learning, and psychiatric illness.


  • Investigators used data on 1088 children (52% girls) in the Generation R Study, a 4-year longitudinal population-based cohort study in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

  • At age 10 years, children and their caregivers reported on children’s level of physical activity and sports involvement.

  • Investigators measured changes in participants’ brain volume via MRI at ages 10 and 14 years.


  • Every 1 additional hour per week in sports participation was associated with a 64.0-mm3 larger volume change in subcortical gray matter (P = .04).

  • Every 1 additional hour per week in total physical activity was associated with a 154.0-mm3 larger volume change in total white matter (P = .02).

  • Total physical activity reported by any source (P = .03) and child reports of outdoor play (P = .01) were associated with increased amygdala volume over time.

  • Total physical activity reported by the children was associated with hippocampal volume increases (P = .02).


“Physical activity is one of the most promising environmental exposures favorably influencing health across the lifespan,” the authors write. “This study adds to prior literature by highlighting the neurodevelopmental benefits physical activity may have on the architecture of the amygdala and hippocampus.”


The study was led by Fernando Estévez-López, PhD, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, the SPORT Research Group and CERNEP Research Center at the University of Almería, Almería, Spain, and Erasmus MC University Medical Centre, Rotterdam, the Netherlands. It was published online on October 5 in JAMA Network Open.


The study only accounted for confounders at baseline, does not establish causation, and utilized unvalidated questionnaires to gather information on physical activity.


Individual authors report receiving financial support, but there was no specific funding for this study. Estévez-López reports no relevant financial conflicts. Full disclosures are available in the original article.

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