Research Resource Library

This is a non-exhaustive list of resources for you to learn more about the impacts of cycling and physical activity on our cognitive, physical, and socio-emotional well-being. We hope you find it useful to help promote cycling and physical activity in your community. If you have an article or a resource you think should be included, please contact us!

The Impact of COVID-19 on Youth Health

Physical Activity and Mental Health

Physical Activity, Cognition, and Academic Performance

Physical Activity and ADHD in Youth

Physical Education

Physical Exercise and Physical Health

Physical Activity Guidelines

Additional Resources

the impact of COVID-19 on Youth HEALTH

Early effects of the covid-19 pandemic on physical activity and sedentary behavior in children living in the u.s.

Genevieve F. Dunton, Bridgette Do, Shirlene D. Wang

BMC Public Health

September 2020

This study examined the early impact of COVID-19 (April-May 2020) on the physical activity and sedentary behavior of children. Compared to before the pandemic, children are engaging in less physical activity and more sedentary behavior, especially for older children (ages 9-13). The researchers highlight the urgency of encouraging improved physical activity habits to avoid negative long-term behavioral change once the pandemic-related closures are lifted.

healthy movement behaviours in children and youth during the Covid-19 pandemic: Exploring the role of the neighbourhood environment

Raktim Mitra, Sarah A. Moore, Meredith Gillespie, Guy Faulkner, Leigh M. Vanderloo, Tala Chulak-Bozzer, Ryan E. Rhodes, Marian Brussoni, Mark S. Tremplay

Health & Place

September 2020

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, youth activity levels have largely decreased, based on a comprehensive survey of parents in Canada. The researchers found that while a subset of Canadian youth saw increases in outdoor activity levels post-COVID-19, the majority of youth saw a decrease in outdoor activity, as well as increases in screen time and other sedentary behaviors. In addition, whether outdoor physical activity time increased or decreased compared to pre-COVID times was associated with the built environment of the communities where the youth resided. While youth in low-density neighborhoods and those that were further from major roads saw increases in outdoor activity time, youth in high-density areas saw decreases in outdoor activity time. However, this decrease in outdoor activity was mitigated by whether youth in high-density areas had access to park space nearby, highlighting the importance of equal access to parks and green space across communities. Given the wide-ranging mental, cognitive, and physical health benefits for youth who reach the recommended daily physical activity levels, it’s critical to understand how different communities are differentially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and how to increase access to outdoor physical activity to those who need it most, especially when many regular opportunities for physical activity have been put on hold during the pandemic.

Mental health and covid-19: What MHA screening data tell us about the impact of the pandemic

Mental Health America


In 2020, over 2.6 million people took one of Mental Health America's online mental health screens – nearly twice the number of people compared to 2019. The results are sobering, and mental health support is needed more than ever. Anxiety and depression, suicidal thinking, and symptoms of psychosis were all on the rise in 2020, and youth are particularly hard hit. The majority of youth (ages 11-17) who took an anxiety screen received scores of moderate to severe anxiety, and were more likely than any other age group to score in that range. Suicidal thinking among youth also rose dramatically in 2020, especially among LGBTQ+ youth. Mental Health America has built out additional support resources on their website for individuals to learn more about mental health and a new treatment resource section to allow users to more quickly connect to providers when needed.

Combating the dangers of sedentary activity on child and adolescent mental health during the time of Covid-19

Vijay A. Mittal, Joseph Firth, David Kimhy

Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

August 2020

In this letter to the editor, the researchers warn of the growing mental health consequences in youth due to the COVID-19 pandemic and increases in sedentary behavior. Due to school closures and stay-at-home orders, youth schedules have been dramatically uprooted at a particularly sensitive time in their development when mental illness can start to emerge. As physical activity can have protective effects against mental illness, and habits developed while young can impact later patterns of activity, it is more critical than ever to find ways to support activity outlets for youth.

Physical ACTIVITY and mental health

Physical Activity and exercise in youth mental health promotion: A scoping review

Michaela Pascoe, Alan P. Bailey, Melinda Craike, Tim Carter, Rhiannon Patten, Nigel Stepto, Alexandra Parker

BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine


A review of initial evidence on the benefits of using physical activity as a mental health promotion and early intervention strategy in youth. Physical activity bouts of varying intensities were associated with reductions in depression symptoms, with moderate-to-vigorous and light-intensity bouts associated with reduced anxiety symptoms in youth. Overall, physical activity appears to be an effective tool in helping to promote youth mental health. More research in this area is warranted, given the growing mental health crisis among the population.

Physical Activity and DEPRESSION: Towards understanding the antidepressant mechanisms of physical activity

Aaron Kandola, Garcia Ashdown-Franks, Joshua Hendrikse, Catherine M Sabiston, Brendon Stubbs

Neuroscience and Behavioral Reviews

December 2019

A review of the role that physical activity plays in reducing depressive symptoms. The article provides an overview of the biological and psychosocial mechanisms that may be involved in the antidepressant-like effects of exercise. 

Highlights listed by the authors:

  • Engaging in physical activity can reduce depressive symptoms.

  • Exercise stimulates several neuroplastic processes implicated in depression.

  • It also reduces inflammation and increases resilience to oxidative and physiological stress.

  • Exercise promotes self-esteem, social support, and self-efficacy.

  • Understanding these mechanisms can improve the design of exercise interventions and maximise treatment response.

Physical activity and mental health in children and adolescents: an updated review of reviews and an analysis of causality

Stuart J.H. Biddle, Simone Ciaccioni, George Thomas, Ineke Vergeer

Psychology of Sport and Exercise

May 2019

A review of systematic review articles examining the impact of physical activity on depression, cognitive functioning, and self-esteem in children and adolescents. Based on research published up until 2017, there is strong evidence for a causal association between physical activity and cognitive functioning in youth: higher levels of physical activity tend to correspond to better cognitive health and performance. More work is needed in the areas of physical activity and anxiety and self-esteem in the youth population.

Physical Activity and incident depression: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies

Felipe B. Schuch, Davy Vancampfort, Joseph Firth, Simon Rosenbaum, Philip B. Ward, Edson S. Silva, Mats Hallgren, Antonio Ponce De Leon, Andrea L. Dunn, Andrea C. Deslandes, Marcelo P. Fleck, Andre F. Caravalho, Brendon Stubbs

American Journal of Psychiatry

July 2018

Meta-analysis of 49 studies on the relationship between physical activity and depression. Higher levels of physical activity (i.e., 150 minutes per week) were associated with a decreased incidence of depression in the future. The protective effects of physical activity against depression were observed across all ages (youth, adults, older adults), gender, and geographical regions across the world.

Effect of physical exercise on depression, neuroendocrine stress hormones and physiological fitness in adolescent females with depressive symptoms

Chanudda Nabkascorn, Nobuyuki Miyai, ANek Sootmongkol, Suwanna Junprasert, Hiroichi Yamamoto, Mikio Arita, Kazuhisa Miyashita

European Journal of Public Health

August 2005

The effects of physical exercise not only impact pediatric populations diagnosed with ADHD, but also have demonstrated improvements in adolescent females with depressive symptoms. This study recruited participants to join an exercise program for eight weeks, and then utilized psychiatric assessments to determine whether improvements were seen in total depressive scores. Researchers found improvements in scores as well as decreases in stress hormones, concluding that group exercise may be an effective solution to improving depressive symptoms

Physical Activity, Cognition, and Academic Performance

physical activity, cognition, and brain outcomes: a review of the 2018 physical activity guidelines

Kirk I. Erickson, Charles Hillman, Chelsea M. Stillman, Rachel M. Ballard, Bonny Bloodgood, David E. Conroy, Richard Macko, David X. Marquez, Steven J. Petruzzello, Kenneth E. Powell; For the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise

June 2019

A review that examines the effects of physical activity interventions on cognitive and brain outcomes across the lifespan. While the researchers call for more work to be done specifically in adolescents and young adults, a number of studies report consistent positive effects of physical activity on cognitive function (particularly in terms of processing speed, memory, and executive function). In addition, there was strong evidence that regularly engaging physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of cognitive decline, including Alzheimer's, later in life.

A review of acute physical activity effects on brain and cognition in children

Charles H. Hillman, Nicole E. Logan, Tatsuya T. Shigeta

Translational Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine

September 2019

This article provides a review of the effects of acute physical activity bouts on cognitive and brain health in preadolescent children. Though there are a wide variety of ways that physical activity interventions are implemented, and there are a number of measures of different cognitive outcomes that are employed (e.g. inhibitory control, working memory, cognitive flexibility, etc.), it is clear that acute bouts of aerobic physical activity can result in a temporary improvement on performance on tasks involving cognitive executive control. Future studies are needed to better understand the exact dose-response involved, though some studies have found that 20 minute bouts of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity is enough to increase attentional resources and improve executive control.

Physical Activity and Performance at School

Amika Singh, PhD; Leonie Utijdewilligen, MSc; Jos W. R. Twisk, PhD; Willem van Mechelen, PhD, MD; Mai J. M. Chinapaw, PhD

Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine

January 2012

Researchers frequently link sports and physical education within schools to healthier physical health outcomes in children. However, in this systematic review, researchers investigated the connection between physical activity and academic performance. After reviewing ten observational and four intervention studies, researchers found participation in sports or physical activity to be positive related to academic performance in children.

Effects of Physical Exercise on Cognitive Functioning and Wellbeing: Biological and Psychological Benefits

Laura Mandolesi, Arianna Polverino, Simone Montuori, Francesca Foti, Giampaolo Ferraioli, Pierpaolo Sorrentino and Giuseppe Sorrentino

Frontiers in Psychology

April 2018

This review focuses on the structural changes that occur as a consequence of physical exercise on the brain, specifically focusing on both biological and psychological positive effects of physical exercise through studies on brain plasticity and epigenetic mechanisms in both animals and humans. This research indicates that physical exercise can not only improve cognitive functioning, but also serve as a protective factor for neurodegeneration.

The long and winding road: Effects of exercise intensity and type upon sustained attention

Remi Radel, Gavin D. Tempest, Jeanick Brisswalter

Physiology & Behavior

October 2018

This study investigated the influence of exercise intensity and exercise type on sustained attention. The researchers had participants ride a stationary bicycle at either a low or a moderate intensity. Exercise type was either a monotonous constant-load or a variable-load (to mimic the undulations of outdoor riding). The authors found that while the influence of exercise on our ability to sustain attention is greater at moderate levels of intensity, the type of exercise and degree of monotony in that exercise may also influence the impact on attention, as the varied-load condition was found to lead to greater attentional benefits compared to the constant load condition.

The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance

US Department of Health and Human Services / CDC / National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention And Health Promotion / Division of Adolescent and School Health

July 2010

The World Health Organization recommends children participate in 60 minutes of physical activity daily. If such recommendations are met, multiple physical and mental health benefits accrue. This report reviews a number of key research articles focused on examining the relationship between school-based physical activity and academic achievement, academic behavior, and cognitive skills and attitudes. Their key findings include:

  1. Increased time allotted to physical education classes is associated with positive (or neutral) benefits in indicators of academic achievement. No negative relationships between increased physical education time and academic achievement were found.

  2. Time spent in recess has positive benefits in terms of cognitive skills, attitudes, and academic behavior. It has positive (or neutral) benefits in terms of attention, concentration, and time-on-task behavior. No negative relationships were found.

  3. Classroom-based physical activity breaks (5-20 minutes long) were largely positively associated with cognitive skills and attitudes, and academic behavior and achievement. No negative associations were found.

  4. Participation in extracurricular physical activity programs was positively associated with academic performance.

Exercise and Children’s Intelligence, Cognition and Academic Performance

Phillip D. Tomporowkski, P.H. Miller, C.L. Davis, J.A. Naglieri

Educational Psychology Review

June 2008

This review examines several published studies that have examined the impact of physical activity on children’s intellectual function, cognitive abilities, and academic achievement. Researchers conclude that, similar to adults, exercise activates children’s executive functioning (the processes required to select, organize, and properly initiate goal-directed actions). This connection, therefore, proves exercise to be a simple method of improving such aspects of children’s mental functioning critical to cognitive and social development.

Be Smart, Exercise Your Heart: Exercise Effects on Brain and Cognition

Charles H. Hillman, Kirk I. Erickson, Arthur F. Kramer

Nature Reviews | Neuroscience

January 2008

Aerobic exercise has been proven to improve a number of aspect in cognition and performance. This article examines the positive effects of physical activity on cognition and brain function, from the molecular level, to the cellular, systems and behavioral levels. Describes impact of physical activity on cognition from childhood through adulthood, finding positive effects from improvements on mathematic tests and memory in children to the maintenance of cognitive function in elder years.

Physical activity and ADhd in youth

The effect of physical activity on children with adhd: A quantitative review of the literature

Colleen Cornelius, Alicia L. Fedewa, Soyeon Ahn

Journal of Applied School Psychology

January 2017

The authors reviewed 20 studies on the effects of physical activity on children with ADHD. They found that physical activity is beneficial for children with ADHD, particularly for improving mood problems.

acute and chronic effect of physical activity on cognition and behaviour in young people with adhd: a systematic review of intervention studies

Sara Suarez-Manzano, Alberto Ruiz-Ariza, Manuel De La Torre-Cruz, Emilio J. Martinez-Lopez

Research in Developmental Disabilities

June 2018

The authors review a number of intervention studies on the impact of physical activity on ADHD symptoms. They suggest that engaging in physical activity for 20-30 minutes at an intensity of 40-75% can improve processing speed, working memory, and planning and problem solving in youth with ADHD. In addition, participating in physical activity regularly (at least three days a week for at least 5 weeks) is associated with further improvements in attention, inhibitory and emotional control, and behavior. However, the authors caution that these results are preliminary and more research is needed to understand what is causing these effects, and to better understand the ideal dose-response relationship.

Exercise improves behavioral, neurocognitive, and scholastic performance in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

Matthew B. Pontifex, Brian J. Saliba, Lauren B. Raine, Daniel L. Picchietti, Charles H. Hillman

The Journal of Pediatrics

March 2013

The researchers examined whether participating in a single 20 minute bout of moderate-intensity (65-75% of maximum heart rate) aerobic exercise affects neurocognitive function and inhibitory control in children with and without ADHD. Over the course of two days, participants completed both the exercise condition and the control (reading) condition. Which order they completed the conditions was varied across participants to ensure results were not due to the order of the tasks. After finishing either the 20 minutes of exercise (or reading), participants completed an inhibitory control task and an academic performance assessment while wearing an electrode cap (to record neuroelectric measures). Children with ADHD, as well as those without ADHD, saw improved response accuracy and stimulus processing, as well as greater reading and arithmetic performance, after exercise compared to after reading.

The Relationship Between Physical Activity and Executive Function Performance in Children With Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder

Jennifer Gapin, Jennifer L. Etnier

Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology


Executive functions (EF) are defined as the cognitive functions that serve to maintain an appropriate problem-solving set to attain a future goal, and allow for individuals to perform daily life activities, appropriate behavior, and academic and social function. Individuals who are diagnosed with ADHD frequently perform more poorly on a range of EF tasks than control participants. This study investigates the relationship between physical exercise and executive functioning in children with ADHD. Researchers found physical exercise to be a significant predictor of success on EF tasks, exemplifying that higher levels of physical activity in children with ADHD is associated with better EF performance.

Measurement of Effect of Physical Exercise on the Concentration of Individuals With ADHD

Alessandro P. Silva, Sueli O. S. Prado, Terigi A. Scardovelli, Silvia R. M. S. Boschi, Luiz C. Campos, Annie F. Frere


March 2015

This study aims to quantify the effects of physical exercise on children and adolescents with ADHD. Participants were required to complete tasks measuring their attention after physical activity ( a five minute run). Results showed improvement in performance with a difference of 30% over those who did not perform the exercise before. Researchers concluded that with this quantitative assessment, exercise can improve the attention of children with ADHD and may help their school performance.

physical education

making the case for inclusive quality physical education policy development: A policy brief

Nancy McLennan



Quality Physical Education is one of the key components in UNESCO's initiative to help build back better post COVID-19. These evidence-based publications created by UNESCO provide a summary of the benefits of supporting inclusive quality physical education programs. 

Youth policy toolkit

Quality Physical Education Infographic

Shape of the nation: status of physical education in the usa

SHAPE America - Society of Health and Physical Educations


This report provides an overview of the state of physical education (PE) and physical activity within the United States. It provides a breakdown of policies and practices by state, and demonstrates the wide disparity in PE requirements and implementation across the country. Given the role that access to PE can play in engaging students in physical activity and improving not only student wellness, but also academic and life skills, investing in quality PE programs is critical for the health and happiness of our youth.

Top Ten Reasons for Quality Physical Education

Guy Le Maurier, Charles B. Corbin

Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance

August 2006

This article reviews the most convincing arguments for continued, quality physical education classes in schools. To date, research has demonstrated that physical education programs lead to increased physical activity, improved self-concept, motivation, increased self-efficacy and improved motor skills. Authors cover examples ranging from physical activity preventing diseases such as obesity, to regular physical activity promoting learning and lifetime wellness, ultimately educating the “total child.”

exploring links to unorganized and organized physical activity during adolescence

Enrique Garcia Bengoechea, Catherine M. Sabiston, Rashid Ahmed, Michelle Farnoush

Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

January 2013

This study analyzed data collected from Canadian adolescents (drawn from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth) to examine relationships between gender, socioeconomic status (SES), weight status, and physical education enjoyment with participation in organized and unorganized physical activity. Gaps in gender and SES were evident: girls and adolescents from low SES backgrounds were less likely to participate in unorganized physical activities than boys and adolescents from middle and high SES backgrounds, respectively. Adolescents who were obese were also at risk for participating less and less in unorganized physical activity over time. However, physical education class enjoyment may play a critical role in protecting against future inactivity: those who enjoyed physical education class were also more likely to participate in both organized and unorganized physical activity, both inside and outside of school, regardless of background. Ensuring physical education class is enjoyable by all students could play an important role in promoting participation physical activity.

outdoor pursuits in physical education: Lessons from the trenches

Jeff McNamee, Gay Timken

Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance

February 2017

This article summarizes the experiences of physical education teachers who redefined their PE programs to incorporate outdoor pursuits (e.g., mountain biking, kayaking, cross country skiing) into their curriculum. While many physical education programs provide a privileged status to team sport, introducing outdoor pursuits and fitness activities to students can provide the students with meaningful experiences they can use throughout their lifetime. Such outdoor pursuits can help create an "even playing field" amongst the students and provide students from all backgrounds the opportunity to learn and feel challenged.

physical activity and physical health

Physical activity assessment and counseling in pedatric clinic settings

Felipe Lobelo, Natalie D. Muth, Sara Hanson, Blaise A. Nemeth, COUNCIL ON SPORTS MEDICINE AND FITNESS AND SECTION ON OBESITY


March 2020

Pediatricians call for others in their field, as well as parents, teachers, and schools, to promote physical literacy and physical activity in children to help them work towards meeting the recommended physical activity guidelines and reap the known benefits of leading a physically active life. They outline a number of critical findings on the importance of physical activity across a number of domains and the role that parents, schools, and the medical community can play in promoting physical activity in children.

Systematic review and meta-analysis of reduction in all-cause mortality from walking and cycling and shape of dose response relationship

Paul Kelly, Sonja Kahlmeier, Thomas Gotschi, Nicola Orsini, Justin Richards, Nia Roberts, Peter Scarborough, Charlie Foster

International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity

October 2014

After a review of the literature on the impact of cycling and walking on population risk of all-cause mortality (ACM), the authors found that regularly cycling or walking results in a 10% reduction in risk of ACM, even when adjusted for other physical activity. In addition, the authors note that promotion of cycling and walking could have the biggest public health impact in groups that are currently not regularly engaged in such activities.

Experiences from a randomized, controlled trial on cycling to school: Does cycling increase cardiorespiratory fitness?

Line A.B. Borrestad, Lars Ostergaard, Lars B. Andersen, Elling Bere

Scandinavian Journal of Public Health

May 2012

Over a 12-week period, the researchers found that children who started cycling to school experienced improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness (measured in terms of VO2 max) compared to those who did not cycle school.

Health benefits of cycling: a systematic review

P. Oja, S. Titze, A. Bauman, B. de Geus, P. Krenn, B. Reger-Nash, T. Kohlberger

Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports

April 2011

This review examined the impact of cycling activities on a number of health outcomes. Across a number of studies included in the review, there was a consistent theme: regular riding and commuting via bicycle is associated with a reduced risk of all-cause mortality in adults, as well as improved cardiorespiratory fitness in children and adolescents. Even short trips on the bicycle can dramatically improve the cardiorespiratory fitness of those who are typically inactive. As the distance ridden increases, the health benefits increase as well.

physical activity guidelines

Physical activity guidelines for americans, 2nd Edition

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018

WHO Guidelines on physical activity and Sedentary behavior

World Health Organization, 2020

Additional resources

Active Schools Resource List

A useful list of infographics, research briefs, and reports outlining the importance of school physical education and physical activity, compiled by our partner, Active Schools.