Cognitive Functioning and Exercise 

At Achieving Abilities, where it may be necessary, we try to tailor each session to not only improve physical ability, but also cognitive abilities such as executive functioning and emotional/self-regulation. 



Executive Functioning

Executive Functioning abilities are part of a 'control system' within our brain for our attentional control.  It allows us to focus our attention, filter distractions, retain information and work with information within our brain. Executive Functioning skills are divided into three components: working memory, inhibitory control and cognitive flexibility. These are important life-long skills that we are not born with, but start to develop during childhood. Sometimes individuals can have difficulty developing these skills.

Working memory - refers to our ability hold information and use it actively

Inhibitory control -  refers to our ability to control thoughts and impulses, be able to think before we act, and helping us resist temptations and distraction.

Cognitive flexibility - refers to our capacity to adjust to changing priorities, our perspectives and deal with changing demands in our environment or from those we are interacting with.  

There is becoming an increasing volume of emerging research evidence suggests that challenging these executive functioning skills with complex motor activities, combining physical and cognitive demands appear to have the potential to improve these skills. The hypothesis surrounding this relates to the physiological impact aerobic exercise can have at a neural level within the brain. Multiple studies have suggested these results looking at the effects straight after an exercise bout, and after long term intervention.

At Achieving Abilities, challenging executive functioning skills can be incorporated into the exercise therapy through dual-task activities, challenging the individual with both cognitive and motor challenges. 

-Barenberg, J, Berse, T & Dutke, S 2011, 'Executive Functions in learning processes: Do they benefit from Physical Activity?", Educational Research Review, vol.6, pp.208-222

-Moreau D, Morrison A & Conway A 2015, 'An ecological approach to cognitive enhancement: Complex motor training', Acta Psychologica, Vol. 157, pp.44-55.

-Koutsandreou, F, Wegner, M, Niemann, C & Budde, H 2016, 'Effects of Motor versus Cardiovascular exercise training on children's working memory", Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise, vol.48, pp.1144-1152

-Best, J 2010, 'Effects of physical activity on children’s executive function: Contributions of experimental research on aerobic exercise', Developmental Review, vol. 30, pp.331-351

-Center on the Developing Child, 2015, 'Enhancing and Practicing Executive Functioning Skills with Children from Infancy to Adolescence', Harvard University, viewed April 2nd 2018 

Emotional Regulation/Self-regulation

For a number of children, adolescents and young people emotional, or self-regulation, can be quite challenging.

For example, for individuals who may experience sensory sensitivities, communication difficulties, motor planning and coordination challenges, or concentration difficulties, as examples, anxiety or frustration can often arise. For these individuals yoga can be beneficial, with benefits including learning skills to assist with relaxation, mindfulness and emotional regulation as coping mechanisms for anxiety and stress. In addition, the postures and breathing techniques used in yoga help to strengthen the nervous system, increase overall health and facilitate the development of body awareness and concentration.

At Achieving Abilities, we often incorporate aspects of yoga practice into our exercise sessions for individuals with, and without, difficulties with emotional/self-regulation.


- Hardy, S 2015, ‘Asanas for Autism and Special Needs’, Jessica Kingsley Publishing, London