Exercise is linked with improved cognition and behavior in children in clinical and experimental settings. This translational study examined if an aerobic cybercycling intervention integrated into physical education (PE) resulted in improvements in behavioral self-regulation and classroom functioning among children with mental health disabilities attending a therapeutic day school.
Using a 14-week crossover design, students (N = 103) were randomly assigned by classroom (k = 14) to receive the 7-week aerobic cybercycling PE curriculum during fall 2014 or spring 2015. During the intervention, children used the bikes 2 times per week during 30- to 40-minute PE classes. During the control period, children participated in standard nonaerobic PE. Mixed effects logistic regression was used to assess relationships between intervention exposures and clinical thresholds of behavioral outcomes, accounting for both individual and classroom random effects.
Children experienced 32% to 51% lower odds of poor self-regulation and learning-inhibiting disciplinary time out of class when participating in the intervention; this result is both clinically and statistically significant. Effects were appreciably more pronounced on days that children participated in the aerobic exercise, but carryover effects were also observed.
Aerobic cybercycling PE shows promise for improving self-regulation and classroom functioning among children with complex behavioral health disorders. This school-based exercise intervention may significantly improve child behavioral health without increasing parental burden or health care costs, or disrupting academic schedules.