Targeted motor skills training, such as agility, balance, coordination, and speed, had a significant effect.
Exercise could help to significantly improve cognitive development in pre-term children, a new study has suggested.
Researchers from the University of Basel and the University Children's Hospital Basel found that simple motor skills training, such as agility, balance, and coordination, helped premature children reach the same levels as full-term kids.
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Babies born before the 37th week of pregnancy are classed as pre-term, and while cognitive limitations often disappear after a few years, some very premature exhibit development differences into their teens.
The discovered that pre-term children have weaker impulse control compared with children born at term, leading to disadvantages in school performance and possible behavioural problems.
However, they discovered that the differences in impulse control can be improved by simply using motor skills training.
"In other words, premature children who had very well-developed motor skills were practically equal to children born at term when it came to impulse control," co-author Dr Sebastian Ludyga explained.
The team of sports scientists compared 54 pre-term children, aged nine to 13 years old, with a group of children the same age who had been born full-term.
The groups were given a 'go/no go' test, and when given a signal, the participants had to push a button as quickly as possible. When given a different signal, they had to suppress their impulse to move and not push the button.
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They found, on average, the premature children found it more difficult to suppress the impulse to move due to impaired attention processes.
And they discovered that the greater the deficit in motor skills, the more limited the impulse control in the children who were born pre-term.
Ludyga has called for more support for premature children and urged for more motor skills training to be adopted by schools.
"Limited impulse control at this age, even if it sorts itself out later, can have negative consequences and restrict these children's educational opportunities," he stated.