ActiveBrains: Effects of an exercise-based randomized controlled trial on cognitive performance, brain structure and brain function in overweight preadolescent children.

Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness and the “Fondo Europeo de Desarrollo Regional (FEDER)” with the following reference number: DEP-2013-47540.
  • – 2020


The new and recent advances in neuroelectric and neuroimaging technologies provide a new era for further exploring and understanding how brain and cognition function can be stimulated by environmental factors, such as exercise, and particularly to study whether physical exercise influences brain development in early ages. The present study, namely the ActiveBrains project, aims to examine the effects of a physical exercise program on brain and cognition, as well as on selected physical and mental health outcomes in overweight/obese children. A total of 110 participants aged 8 to 11 years are randomized into an exercise group (N=57) or a control group (N=53). The intervention lasts 20-weeks, with 3-5 after-school sessions per week of 90 min each, and is mainly focused on high intensity aerobic exercise yet also includes muscle-strengthening exercises.
The extent to what the intervention effect remains 8-months after the exercise program finishes is also studied in a subsample. Brain structure and function and cognitive performance are assessed using structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging and electroencephalographic recordings. Secondary outcomes include physical health outcomes (e.g. physical fitness, body fatness, bone mass and lipid-metabolic factors) and mental health outcomes (e.g. chronic stress indicators and overall behavioural and personality measurements such as anxiety or depression).
This project will substantially contribute to the existing knowledge and will have an impact on societies, since early stimulation of brain development might have long lasting consequences on cognitive performance, academic achievement and in the prevention of behavioural problems and the promotion of psychological adjustment and mental health. ID: NCT02295072


Data collection finished. Currenly in publication’s result phase.


The ActiveBrains project was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness and the “Fondo Europeo de Desarrollo Regional (FEDER)” with the following reference number: DEP-2013-47540.


  • Cadenas-Sánchez C, Mora-González J, Migueles JH, Martín-Matillas M, Gómez-Vida J, Escolano-Margarit V, Maldonado J, Enriquez G, Pastor-Villaescusa B, de Teresa C, Navarrete S, Lozano R, Beas-Jiménez JdD, Estévez-López F, Mena-Molina A, Heras MJ, Chillón P, Campoy C, Muñoz-Hernández V, Martínez-Ávila WD, Merchan ME, Perales JC, Gil A, Verdejo-García A, Aguilera CM Ruiz JR, Labayen I, Catena A, Ortega FB. An exercise-based randomized controlled trial on brain, cognition, physical health and mental health in overweight/obese children (ActiveBrains project): Rationale, design and methods. ContempClinTrials. Contemp Clin Trials. 2016 Feb 23. pii: S1551-7144(16)30021-0. doi: 10.1016/j.cct.2016.02.007. [Epub ahead of print]. [Pubmed]
  • Esteban-Cornejo I, Ortega FB. Training muscles and brains: being physically and cognitively active at early ages [Entrenando músculos y cerebros: ser físicamente activo para ser cognitivamente activo a edades tempranas]. Arch Med Deporte.2016;33(3):161-162.descargar
  • Esteban-Cornejo I, Ortega FB, Catena A. Neural perspectives on cognitive control development during childhood and adolescence should take into account how the obesity affects brain development. Acta Paediatr. 2017 Dec 27. doi: 10.1111/apa.14200. [Pubmed].
  • Migueles JH, Cadenas-Sanchez C, Ortega FB. Critique of: “Physical Activity Assessment Between Consumer- and Research-Grade Accelerometers: A Comparative Study in Free-Living Conditions”. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2017 Feb 27;5(2):e15.doi: 10.2196/mhealth.6860. [Pubmed].
  • Migueles JH, Cadenas-Sanchez C, Ekelund U, Delisle Nyström C, Mora-Gonzalez J, Löf M, Labayen I, Ruiz JR, Ortega FB. Accelerometer Data Collection and Processing Criteria to Assess Physical Activity and Other Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Practical Considerations. Sports Med. 2017 Sep;47(9):1821-1845. doi:10.1007/s40279-017-0716-0. [Pubmed].
  • Esteban-Cornejo I, Cadenas-Sanchez C, Contreras-Rodriguez O, Verdejo-Roman J, Mora-Gonzalez J, Migueles JH, Henriksson P, Davis CL, Verdejo-Garcia A, Catena A, Ortega FB. A whole brain volumetric approach in overweight/obese children: Examining the association with different physical fitness components and academic performance. The ActiveBrains project. Neuroimage. 2017 Oct 1;159:346-354. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2017.08.011. [Pubmed].
  • Nyström CD, Henriksson P, Martínez-Vizcaíno V, Medrano M, Cadenas-Sanchez C, Arias-Palencia NM, Löf M, Ruiz JR, Labayen I, Sánchez-López M, Ortega FB. Does Cardiorespiratory Fitness Attenuate the Adverse Effects of Severe/Morbid Obesity on Cardiometabolic Risk and Insulin Resistance in Children? A Pooled Analysis. Diabetes Care. 2017 Nov;40(11):1580-1587. doi: 10.2337/dc17-1334. [Pubmed].
  • Rodriguez-Ayllon M, Cadenas-Sanchez C, Esteban-Cornejo I, Migueles JH, Mora-Gonzalez J, Henriksson P, Martín-Matillas M, Mena-Molina A, Molina-García P, Estévez-López F, Enriquez GM, Perales JC, Ruiz JR, Catena A, Ortega FB. Physical fitness and psychological health in overweight/obese children: A cross-sectional study from the ActiveBrains project. J Sci Med Sport. 2018 Feb;21(2):179-184. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2017.09.019. [Pubmed]
  • Esteban-Cornejo I, Catena A, Hillman CH, Kramer AF, Erickson KI, Ortega FB. Commentary: At least eighty percent of brain grey matter is modifiable by physical activity: a review study. Front Hum Neurosci. 2018 May 8;12:195. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2018.00195. [Pubmed].
  • Ortega FB, Cadenas-Sanchez C, Migueles JH, Labayen I, Ruiz JR, Sui X, Blair SN, Martínez-Vizcaino V, Lavie CJ. Role of Physical Activity and Fitness in the Characterization and Prognosis of the Metabolically Healthy Obesity Phenotype: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2018 Jul -Aug;61(2):190-205. doi: 10.1016/j.pcad.2018.07.008. [Pubmed].
  • Arenaza L, Muñoz-Hernández V, Medrano M, Oses M, Amasene M, Merchán-Ramírez E, Cadenas-Sanchez C, Ortega FB, Ruiz JR, Labayen I. Association of Breakfast Quality and Energy Density with Cardiometabolic Risk Factors in Overweight/Obese Children: Role of Physical Activity. Nutrients. 2018 Aug 10;10(8). pii: E1066. doi: 10.3390/nu10081066. [Pubmed] .
  • Muñoz-Hernandez V, Arenaza L, Gracia-Marco L, Medrano M, Merchan Ramirez E, D Martinez Avila W, Oses M, R Ruiz J, Ortega FB, Labayen I. Influence of Physical Activity on Bone Mineral Content and Density in Overweight and Obese Children with Low Adherence to the Mediterranean Dietary Pattern. Nutrients. 2018 Aug12;10(8). pii: E1075. doi: 10.3390/nu10081075. [Pubmed].
  • Molina-Garcia P, H Migueles J, Cadenas-Sanchez C, Esteban-Cornejo I, Mora-Gonzalez J, Rodriguez-Ayllon M, Plaza-Florido A, Molina-Molina A, Garcia-Delgado G, D’Hondt E, Vanrenterghem J, Ortega FB. Fatness and fitness inrelation to functional movement quality in overweight and obese children. J Sports Sci. 2018 Oct 16:1-8. doi:10.1080/02640414.2018.1532152. [Pubmed].
  • Esteban-Cornejo I, Mora-Gonzalez J, Cadenas-Sanchez C, Contreras-Rodriguez O, Verdejo-Román J, Henriksson P, Migueles JH, Rodriguez-Ayllon M, Molina-García P, Suo C, Hillman CH, Kramer AF, Erickson KI, Catena A, Verdejo-García A, Ortega FB. Fitness, cortical thickness and surface area in overweight/obese children: The mediating role of body composition and relationship with intelligence. Neuroimage. 2019 Feb 1;186:771-781. [Pubmed]
  • Esteban-Cornejo I, Rodriguez-Ayllon M, Verdejo-Roman J, Cadenas-Sanchez C, Mora-Gonzalez J, Chaddock-Heyman L, Raine LB, Stillman CM, Kramer AF, Erickson KI, Catena A, Ortega FB, Hillman CH. Physical Fitness, White Matter Volume and Academic Performance in Children: Findings From the ActiveBrains and FITKids2 Projects. Front Psychol. 2019 Feb 12;10:208. [Pubmed]

The study in the media



Cadena Ser

Press People





  • ActiveBrains Project in ConCiencia programme, Canal Sur TV.
  • Dr. Ortega and Dra. Esteban-Cornejo in Canal Sur TV. (csn1 granada – 23/10/2017)

Web financiada por la Junta de Andalucía, Consejería de Conocimiento, Investigación y Universidades, Fondo Europeo de Desarrollo Regional (FEDER), proyecto SOMM17/6107/UG

Web financiada por la Junta de Andalucía, Consejería de Conocimiento, Investigación y Universidades, Fondo Europeo de Desarrollo Regional (FEDER), proyecto SOMM17/6107/UGR