Date of Completion
Physical Activity, Executive Functions, Stress, Poverty
Joseph N. Cooper
Field of Study
Learning, Leadership, and Education Policy
Doctor of Philosophy
Individuals living in poverty are exposed to greater amounts of adversity, resulting in greater levels of circulating stress hormones. Elevated levels of stress hormones are associated with a plethora of negative health outcomes including the early onset of diabetes, heart disease, and impaired brain development and executive functions. Deficits in executive functions can result in detrimental health, education and life outcomes among school-aged youth. Conversely, physical activity participation have been shown to improve executive functions among youth. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine if physical activity participation is related to greater executive functions and stress regulation among youth in poverty. In order to assess these relationships, executive functions (cognitive flexibility, inhibition, & working memory), salivary cortisol, physical activity, health-related quality of life, and school climate were measured among participants (N= 149) in the 5th-8thgrade from three schools located in districts of poverty in the northeast and the southwest of the United States. The results revealed statistically significant differences in working memory among more active youth in poverty compared to less active youth, but no statistically significant differences in cognitive flexibility or inhibition (p < 0.05) Additionally, the results also showed no statistically significant differences in morning or afternoon salivary cortisol among more active youth, when compared with less active youth (p> 0.05). However, active youth had significantly different changes from their morning to afternoon salivary cortisol compared to less active youth (p< 0.05). These findings support previous research that shows how physical activity is associated with greater executive functions and stress regulation, which has implications for health, education and life outcomes, particularly among youth in poverty.
Mala, Jesse, "The Relationship of Physical Activity Participation on Executive Functions and Stress Regulation Among Youth in Poverty" (2018). Doctoral Dissertations. 1939.