Team sports and brain function – University of Copenhagen

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07 November 2012

Team sports and brain function

The project’s overall goal is to identify to what extent and how various types of team sports are effective in promoting motor learning and cognitive functions.


It is well documented that physical activity has a positive influence on brain function. Several studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise produces improvements in performance level during specific cognitive tasks, particularly those that involve attention, speed of problem-solving, decision-making and working memory.

In many studies, however, these general effects were not observed, and there is a general lack of knowledge on how physical activity should be structured in order to promote motor functions, cognitive functions and learning.

On that point, we have recently shown that intense aerobic training before and after study improves the establishment of memory and therefore the recall of the task being studied. It has also been shown that aerobic training promotes both functional and structural adaptations in the human brain, even in older people. The practical application of these results requires more knowledge about the meaning of the type of physical activity, its intensity and its timing with regards to the learning situation in order to prevent a decline in cognitive and motor functions.

Studies 1 and 2

Studies 1 and 2 investigates whether the acute effect of team sports and physical activity on cognitive functions and motor learning in both children and adults. These studies include partial projects which focus on covering the 1) significance of the physical activity’s intensity, 2) the effects of the different activity types and exercise forms, and 3) the optimal timing of physical activity in relation to learning.

Study 3

Study 3 investigates what significance the activation of the brain’s reward system has for the beneficial effects of physical activities on learning.

Study 4

Study 4 focus on the more long-term effects of team sports and physical activity on motor learning and cognitive function. This study will implement findings from the introductory studies with the goal of optimising the design of team sports and physical activity in order to promote learning to the greatest extent possible.