Aerobic exercise can improve quality of life for children with mild traumatic brain injury

Child Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injury

Every year in the United States, more than one million people visit an emergency department for mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), or concussion. Although most children fully recover from concussion within a few weeks, about 1 in 10 children experience persistent symptoms, such as headache, nausea, blurry vision, poor concentration, and slowed reaction time. These poor outcomes may impede a child’s ability to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally, putting them at risk for poor quality of life in the months and years following injury. As a result, researchers are highly motivated to develop interventions that facilitate children’s recovery from concussion.

A group of researchers in Ohio developed an aerobic exercise program to improve outcomes after pediatric concussion. They recruited 30 adolescents aged 12-17 years with persistent concussion symptoms to participate in a six-week aerobic exercise intervention. (A similar comparison group participated in a non-aerobic, stretching-only exercise program.) Before and after the exercise program, researchers assessed the teenagers for neurological processes including working memory, processing speed, attention, executive function, and language abilities. They also used the Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory to obtain self-reported and parent-reported estimates of the participants’ quality of life.

After the adolescents completed the six-week program, the researchers analyzed the post-regimen assessments and determined that all of the adolescents who participated in aerobic and non-aerobic (stretching) exercise programs showed increased quality of life. However, only the adolescents who participated in aerobic exercise showed improvement in neurocognitive domains such as memory, attention, and language.

Currently, there are few effective interventions to improve pediatric outcomes after concussion. The results of this study indicate that while both aerobic and anaerobic exercise can improve quality of life after injury, aerobic exercise in particular is associated with improvements in cognitive function that may facilitate children’s ability to succeed in school and maintain successful social relationships.

Gladstone E, Narad ME, Hussain F, et al. Persistent symptoms after mild traumatic brain injury: Secondary outcome analysis of a pilot randomized clinical trial. Frontiers in Neurology. (September 2019).

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