HIIT Boosts Children’s Brain Power

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), a brief, quick-paced form of exercise, has been found to help school children perform better on tasks involving the working memory and cognitive control.

You always knew that exercise was good for your child’s mind and body. Something about getting blood and oxygen circulating to the brain. Scientists knew it too—knew exercise improved academic performance. Researchers from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, however, decided to check if HIIT (short bursts of high-intensity activity followed by brief intervals of low-intensity activity) would be as effective as more typical, longer workouts. The results of their research were published in the August 2017 issue of eLife.

The study, headed up by Drs. David Moreau and Karen E. Waldie, involved 318 child participants aged 7-13 years and lasted 6 weeks. “Previous studies have suggested that long, sustained workout sessions, performed at a moderate intensity for 30 to 40 minutes, are most beneficial to learning and memory,” said lead author of the study, Dr. David Moreau, speaking to the Daily Mail.

“We wanted to see if short, intense bursts of exercise could also lead to meaningful cognitive improvements in children, and whether the effect of exercise on the brain is different depending on physical health and other individual characteristics.”

To that end, Moreau and his team gave the children six tasks in two categories: working memory and cognitive control. An example of a working memory task would be a game where children have to find matching cards by turning over two cards at a time. Children must remember which cards contain specific pictures in order to make subsequent matches. Cognitive control involves interpreting information without allowing bias or impulse to override the process. An example of a cognitive control task would be to play a game based on the Stroop effect, where children are shown color words (blue, green, red, orange, and etc.) and must read the words without letting the color of the ink bias their answers.

A strong working memory and effective cognitive control are considered important predictors for success in school and later in life, in the workplace.

After finishing the six tasks, the children would then be randomly sent to do either HIIT or play fun or educational video games. Then, the children would do another round of six memory and cognitive control tasks. This allowed researchers to compare performance before and after the activities. It also allowed them to compare performance after HIIT to performance after breaking for a fun round of video games.

The HIIT sessions lasted 10 minutes each. Over six weeks’ time, the  duration of the study, this amounts to a total of five hours of exercise. The kids doing HIIT did much better on the second six round of tasks than the kids who played the video games.

HIIT As Effective As Longer Workouts


This was an important finding because while exercise had been found to boost brain power, aerobic exercise in the middle of the school day would tend to take too much time away from a child’s studies. The fact that brief intervals of exercise of no more than 10 minutes at a time are as effective as longer workouts has important implications. A short break for HIIT is a lot more reasonable than a 40-minute aerobic workout smack dab in the middle of math class.

What should parents do with this information? Certainly share this article with your child’s teacher and with other parents, too. A teacher who is really invested in his or her pupils should be willing to give HIIT a try. Why not? It only takes 10 minutes.

You may find that not every teacher is interested in hearing about such innovations from parents. In that case, use the information here to help your child do better at homework. Here are three HIIT workouts for children you can have your own children do at home before they sit down to do their homework.

When the teacher asks what your secret is in getting your child to perform such amazing homework feats, there’s your chance to explain the benefits of a 10-minute session of HIIT.

Hey. Whatever it takes. Right?

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About Varda Epstein

Varda Meyers Epstein serves as editor in chief of Kars4Kids Parenting. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Varda is the mother of 12 children and is also a grandmother of 12. Her work has been published in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Learning Site, The eLearning Site, and Internet4Classrooms.

Reader Interactions


  1. gigi says

    the color work out was really hard because you where reading the word but it was not the right color

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