Completed research projects

Chief Investigator Prof. Dr. med. Kurt Leibundgut
Principal 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
Sportwissenschaftliches Teilprojekt (Schmidt & Conzelmann): 162’400 CHF
Collaborations Pädiatrische Hämatologie/Onkologie, Neuropädiatrie, Diagnostische und Interventionelle Neuroradiologie des Universitätsspitals Bern (Inselspital); Klinik für Onkologie des Universitäts-Kinderspitals Zürich

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), 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, Published, 1–10.


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, bjsports-2019-101920.
Benzing, V., Chang, Y.-K., & Schmidt, M. (2018). Acute physical activity enhances executive functions in children with ADHD. Scientific Reports, 8(1), 12382.
Benzing, V., & Schmidt, M. (2018). Exergaming for children and adolescents: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 7(11), 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), sms.13446.


Principal investigator Prof. Dr. Mirko Schmidt & Prof. Dr. Achim Conzelmann
Staff Dr. Fabienne Egger
Funding Federal Office for Sport BASPO

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):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 & Exercise, 36, 178-186.