Completed research projects

Principal investigator  Dr. Valentin Benzing

Physical activity and COVID-19 (2020-2023)

Bild mit 4 Würfeln auf denen S T A Y steht und 3 weiteren Würfen auf der Kante, auf denen HO ME und SA FE steht.

The effects of the Corona pandemic on public life are omnipresent. Distance and hygiene rules have been introduced, and in some cases masks have even become compulsory. Already in spring 2020, at the beginning of the spread of corona pandemic in Switzerland, schools were closed and a general "lock-down" was introduced. During this time, there was usually no school and no physical education. Children and adolescents were often denied access to sports facilities, sports activities and playgrounds. Although the opportunities for doing sports were restricted, there was also more time for exercise. The question therefore arises on the part of science and politics as to whether the "lock-down" and the current situation have an influence on physical activity and whether this leads to an in- or decrease. Against the background of a higher psychological stress during the current situation, the effects of a possible change in physical activity on psychological well-being are of interest. We are currently investigating these and other questions regarding physical activity and COVID-19 in children and we are part of an international research collaboration (initiated by Prof. Dr. Ralf Brand, University of Potsdam) which focuses adults.

Principal investigator Prof. Dr. Mirko Schmidt
Staff Amie Wallman-Jones
Collaborations Prof. Dr. Manos Tsakiris, University of London, UK and University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg
Prof. Dr. Pandelis Perakakis, Complutense University of Madrid, Spain

Physical activity and interoception - Mechanisms and determinants (2018-2022)

Physical education had always had the task of enabling children and adolescents to experience a variety of movements in order to train their body awareness. Interoception, defined as the sense of the internal bodily state (e.g. heart rate), plays a critical role in the multifaceted concept of wellbeing; physical, cognitive, emotional and social. Regarding physical well-being, contemporary models of exercise regulation incorporate interoceptive processes in the regulation of exertion during physical activity. In addition, enhancing one’s physiological arousal by means of physical activity is a viable way of manipulating the afferent input entering the interoceptive system, appearing to optimise the integration of early sensory stimulation with later affective responses. Despite this, the relationship between physical activity and self-regulation is underrepresented in interoceptive research. The present project addresses this gap by integrating findings from different disciplines to support the overlapping mechanisms. Following from an initial theoretical review of the current literature, our experimental lab and field studies explore the mechanistic underpinnings of this relationship, aiming to develop a better understanding of how interoceptive processes influence, and are influenced by, physical activity. Further, we aim to reveal how such mechanisms are influenced by different baseline factors (e.g. stress). Developing our understanding of how interoceptive processes are shaped by physical activity could hold significant clinical implications considering the impact of aberrant interoception to mental health and well-being.

Selected publications

Wallman-Jones, A., Mölders, C., Schmidt, M., & Schärli, A. (2023). Feldenkrais to improve interoceptive processes and psychological well-being in female adolescent ballet dancers: A feasibility study. Journal of Dance Education, 23(3), 254-266.
Wallman-Jones, A., Nigg, C., Benzing, V., & Schmidt, M. (2023). Leave the screen: The influence of everyday behaviors on self-reported interoception. Biological Psychology, 181, Article 108600.
Wallman-Jones, A., Palser, E. R., Benzing, V., & Schmidt, M. (2022). Acute physical-activity related increases in interoceptive ability are not enhanced with simultaneous interoceptive attention. Scientific Reports, 12, Article 15054.
Wallman-Jones, A., Perakakis, P., Tsakiris, M., & Schmidt, M. (2021). Physical activity and interoceptive processing: Theoretical considerations for future research. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 166, 38-49.
Principal investigator  Dr. Simon Endes (Ecoplan)
Co-investigators Prof. Dr. Mirko Schmidt, Prof. Dr. Claudio R. Nigg, Prof. Susi Kriemier
Staff Carina Nigg
Funding Health Promotion Switzerland: 95,000 CHF

Impact evaluation Open gyms (2019-2021)

Ein Kind liegt auf dem Rücken und hält einen Ball mit seinen Füssen in die Luft.

There are several factors that influence children’s physical activity, including available physical activity programs and their quality. To promote children’s physical activity through the winter, the organization “Chindaktiv” collaborated with RADIX to establish the program “Ä Halle wo’s fägt” while the foundation Ideésport established the physical activity program “MiniMove”. Both programs provide an opportunity for children between 0 and 6 years to be physically active for about two hours in gyms close to their home. Funded through “Gesundheitsförderung Schweiz” (Health Promotion Switzerland), we collaborate with Ecoplan and the University of Zurich to evaluate children’s physical activity during the program at selected locations. During both programs, children’s physical activity will be observed at different program locations and also assessed via accelerometry. In addition, physical skills that are promoted and social interactions that occur during the program will be evaluated. Also, the socio-economic status of the participating children will be assessed to evaluate social participation and inclusion. At all selected locations, assessment will take place at the beginning (October/November 2020) as well as at the end (February/March 2021) of the winter seasons to evaluate changes over time.

Principal Investigator Prof. Dr. med. Kurt Leibundgut
Co-investigators Dr. Theda Heinks, Prof. Dr. Achim Conzelmann, Prof. Dr. Maja Steinlin, 
Prof. Dr. med. Michael Grotzer, Dr. med. Christian Weisstanner, 
Prof. Dr. Barbara Plecko
Funding Fondation Gaydoul & Swiss Cancer Research foundation: 750’000 CHF
Sport science sub-project (Schmidt & Conzelmann): 162’400 CHF
Collaborations Paediatric Haematology/Oncology, Neuropaediatrics, Diagnostic and Interventional Neuroradiology at the University Hospital Bern (Inselspital); Clinic for Oncology at the University Children's Hospital Zurich

Brainfit study (2015-today)

The increase in the survival rate of children with cancer to over 80% is a very positive development, but unfortunately it often is associated with negative side effects. For example, cancer in children and adolescents often leads to long-term physical and cognitive abnormalities that make integration into school and family life difficult and impair the children's well-being. Studies with healthy children show that physical activity has a positive effect on cognitive and school performance. In particular physical activity which is also cognitively challenging seems to benefit cognitive performance. Initial studies with children after cancer show that physical activity can have a positive effect on quality of life. Against this background, the Brainfit study aims to investigate the effects of physically and cognitively challenging training (compared to cognitive training) in children and adolescents after oncological disease on motor and cognitive abilities, brain development and quality of life. This is done in an interdisciplinary team consisting of representatives from medicine, psychology, neuroradiology and sport science at the Inselspital and the University of Bern. The study is funded by “Fondation Gaydoul” (Churerstrasse 47, 8808 Pfäffikon SZ), “Swiss Cancer Research Foundation” (KFS-3705-08-2015; KFS-4708-02-2019), the “Dietmar Hopp Stiftung GmbH” (Walldorf, Germany), the “Hans und Annelies Swierstra Stiftung” (Meggen, Switzerland) and the “Krebsstiftung Thun-Berner Oberland”.

Selected publications

Benzing, V., Eggenberger, N., Spitzhüttl, J., Siegwart, V., Pastore-Wapp, M., Kiefer, C., Slavova, N., Grotzer, M., Heinks, T., Schmidt, M., Conzelmann, A., Steinlin, M., Everts, R., & Leibundgut, K. (2018). The Brainfit study: Efficacy of cognitive training and exergaming in pediatric cancer survivors – A randomized controlled trial. BMC Cancer, 18(1), Article 18.
Benzing, V., Spitzhüttl, J., Siegwart, V., Schmid, J., Grotzer, M., Heinks, T., Roebers, C. M., Steinlin, M., Leibundgut, K., Schmidt, M., & Everts, R. (2020). Effects of cognitive training and exergaming in pediatric cancer survivors – A randomized clinical trial. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 52(11), 2293-2302.


Principal investigator Prof. Dr. Mirko Schmidt
Co-applicant Valentin Benzing
Funding Foundation Suzanne und Hans Biäsch for the Promotion of Applied Psychology: 26’000 CHF
Hans & Annelies Swierstra Foundation: 5’148 CHF

Exergaming and ADHD (2016-2018)

Children with ADHD are less active in sports and spend about twice as much time playing video games as their peers. They show increased motor and cognitive difficulties and often fall out of traditional sports programmes due to their symptomatology. This is problematic, as physical activity has the potential to have a positive impact on the physical, mental and cognitive health of school children. It has been shown that cognitively demanding sports activities (e.g. learning movement sequences) have a positive effect on cognitive performance. However, there is still too little research to prove this for children with ADHD. Therefore, the aim of this research project was to investigate to what extent children with ADHD can be supported in their sporting activity and whether cognitively demanding sporting activity has a positive effect on ADHD symptoms, motor skills and executive functions in the short and long term. Exergaming (= active video gaming) was selected as a sporting activity to potentially replace inactive video gaming (Benzing & Schmidt, 2018). In the studies we conducted, we were able to show that immediately after one-time cognitively demanding exergaming, attention can be improved (Benzing et al., 2018). In the long term (after 8 weeks of intervention), we were able to map an improvement in motor skills, general psychopathology and executive functions (Benzing & Schmidt, 2019). However, our results also show that further specific adaptations are needed for exergaming to be used as an intervention on a large scale (Benzing, 2020). The study was supported by the Suzanne and Hans Biäsch Foundation and the Hans and Annelies Swierstra Foundation.

Selected publications

Benzing, V. (2020). Exergaming – A physical activity intervention to benefit children with ADHD? (PhD Academy Award). British Journal of Sports Medicine, 54, 930-931.
Benzing, V., Chang, Y.-K., & Schmidt, M. (2018). Acute physical activity enhances executive functions in children with ADHD. Scientific Reports, 8(1), Article 12382.
Benzing, V., & Schmidt, M. (2018). Exergaming for children and adolescents: Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 7(11), Article 422.
Benzing, V., & Schmidt, M. (2019). The effect of exergaming on executive functions in children with ADHD: A randomized clinical trial. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 29(8), 1243-1253.
Principal investigator Prof. Dr. Mirko Schmidt & Prof. Dr. Achim Conzelmann
Staff Dr. Fabienne Egger
Funding Federal Office for Sport FOSPO

Moving Minds – Movement breaks and executive functions (2015-2017)

When it comes to physical activity at school, the public discussion is often dominated by the opinion that sporting activity not only has a positive effect on the body, but also on the mind. More exercise in everyday school life is said to lead to improved concentration, better memory and school performance. However, there are hardly any scientific findings for childhood and adolescence that support these assumptions. For this reason, the present study investigated the immediate effect of physical activity breaks (short-term study) on the one hand, and the effect of physical activity breaks with specific content during twenty weeks (long-term study) on the so-called "executive functions" on the other. From mid-August 2015 to the end of April 2016, around 220 children from 20 second classes in the cantons of Bern and Fribourg took part. They were assigned to one of four modules with varying degrees of cognitive and physical activation in both the short-term and long-term studies. The results of the short-term study show that the cognitive load during the exercise breaks must not be too high, otherwise it leads to immediate cognitive fatigue. The results confirm previous studies which showed that, for example, physical education with high coordinative and cognitive demands can positively influence the cognitive performance of school children in the long term. The "MoMi" study shows that comparable effects can also be achieved through regular exercise breaks with high cognitive demands.

Selected publications

Egger, F., Benzing, V., Conzelmann, A., & Schmidt, M. (2019). Boost your brain, while having a break! The effects of long-term cognitively engaging physical activity breaks on children’s executive functions and academic achievement. PLoS ONE, 14(3), Article e0212482.
Egger, F., Conzelmann, A., & Schmidt, M. (2018). The effect of cognitively engaging physical activity breaks on children’s executive functions: Too much of a good thing? Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 36, 178-186.