Current research projects

Principal investigator Dr. Valentin Benzing
Co-investigators Dr. Eva Katharina Brack
Dr. Christina Schindera
PD Dr. Julia Schmid
Sara Müller
Lisa Hillebrecht
Prof. Dr. Nicolas von der Weid
Prof. Dr. Regula Everts
Funding FOSPO (in collaboration with the lab 7x1 innovation laboratory)
Swiss Cancer League

Promoting physical activity in Swiss paediatric oncology

Ein Comic, das ein Kind beim Spielen mit einer Krankenschwester zeigt, daneben steht ein Mann mit einem Kind auf dem Arm, der mit einem anderen Kind spielt.

Exercise programmes are increasingly regarded internationally as an essential component of paediatric oncology treatment. In Switzerland, however, sports therapy during cancer treatment has so far been little or not at all established. Physical activity during acute treatment and aftercare reduces the side effects of therapy and supports the success of treatment. Exercise also has a favourable effect on cognition due to changes in brain structure and function and improved neurotransmission. Children and adolescents with cancer often have cognitive impairments due to neurotoxic therapies or the disease itself. This research project therefore aims to investigate whether the cognitive performance of children and adolescents with cancer can be maintained or even improved through the targeted promotion of cognition with the help of physical activity. This is being done as part of the "KiKli Fit" sports and exercise programme for children and adolescents with cancer already offered at Bern University Hospital. The scientific monitoring of the "KiKli-Fit" project includes effectiveness testing, implementation research and the development of an exercise manual for the entire Swiss paediatric oncology department.


Benzing, V., Heinks, T., Eggenberger, N., & Schmidt, M. (2016). Acute cognitively engaging exergame-based physical activity enhances executive functions in adolescents. PLoS One, 11(12), Article e0167501.
Benzing, V., Siegwart, V., Spitzhüttl, J., Schmid, J., Grotzer, M., Roebers, C. M., Steinlin, M., Leibundgut, K., Everts, R., & Schmidt, M. (2021). Motor ability, physical self-concept and health-related quality of life in pediatric cancer survivors. Cancer Medicine, 10(5), 1860-1871.
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.

Cooperation partners

Swiss Cancer League
FOSPO (in collaboration with the lab 7x1 innovation laboratory)
Network ActiveOncoKids

Principal investigators Prof. Dr. Tina Hascher (IfE, ASU)
Prof. Dr. Mirko Schmidt (ISPW, ASP)
Co-investigators PD Dr. André Klostermann
Dr. Mathias Mejeh
Staff Bernarda Letnar
Funding (ISPW share) Digitisation committee of the University of Bern: 125‘000 CHF
Faculty of Human Sciences: 65‘300 CHF

Self-regulated learning in the digital context. Conditions for success in learning and teaching (SELEKT)

In a digitalised educational society, self-regulated learning is increasingly supported by digital media such as learning platforms and applications. This development aims to individually optimise the learning process and promote the digital literacy of learners. The functional design of online learning environments and the evidence-based use of digital media play a decisive role here. Digital education goals include competences such as computer and information-related skills as well as technology-based problem-solving skills. In this sub-project, we are investigating technology-based options for supporting self-regulated learning of motor skills in the context of practical sports methodology training at universities. The focus is on the so-called calibration, i.e. the comparison of the actual state with the target state, which is necessary in order to uncover deficits in one's own skill level and relate them to the learning objectives. The valid self-assessment of learners is particularly challenging.

Management team Prof. Dr. Mirko Schmidt (ISPW)
Dr. Stefan Valkanover (PHBern)
Project coordination Dr. Fabienne Egger
Staff Mario Kamer
Andrea Maria Nadenbousch
Marion Gasser
Funding FOSPO, Cantonal action programme GSI, school trial Canton of Berne: 557‘924 CHF

Active School: Sustainable promotion of physical activity in schools (2022-today)

Logo Active School.

As children and young people spend a large part of their day at school, schools have enormous potential to promote physical activity. The Institute of Sports Science at the University of Bern and the Didactics Centre at the University of Teacher Education Bern are therefore working with eight project schools from the canton of Bern to develop individual concepts for the holistic and sustainable promotion of physical activity in schools. Until now, efforts to promote physical activity in schools have lacked a comprehensive, systemic approach that takes into account the specific conditions of schools and the needs of all those involved. This is where the Active School concept comes in: Promoting physical activity is seen as a development process for the school. The school-based physical activity coordinators, who are paid by the canton, therefore attend four workshops a year to bring the knowledge they have acquired into the schools and implement it together with the working group and the entire staff. The integration of different movement options (e.g. movement before and after school, movement breaks, etc.), the remuneration of an internal school movement coordinator and the clear allocation of responsibilities with regard to goals and measures will make it possible to implement proven ideas from existing programmes in an integrated and sustainable way. At the heart of the 3.5-year project is the development, implementation and evaluation of a holistic physical activity promotion concept that is tailored to the individual needs of each school and takes into account the interests of all those involved.

Management Prof. Dr. Mirko Schmidt
Staff Moritz Engel

Media use, sporting activity and body-related self-perception (2023-today)

Ein Schuljunge geht vorbei und starrt dabei in sein Handy.

The processing and linking of physical signals from the environment (exteroception) and the inner world (interoception) plays a central role in the perception of one's own body. The integration of these signals contributes to the development of the body-related self-image and identity, which are strongly linked to mental health. The same perceptual processes are required to encode both internal and external signals. In concrete terms, this means that attention to external signals reduces the attention resources for internal signals and vice versa. If the perception of interoceptive signals is absent or reduced, it can therefore be assumed that one's own self-model is primarily generated exteroceptively, as suggested by recent studies. Young people today spend a large proportion of their time using digital media, which means that they are constantly exposed to external signals. Initial study results indicate that the use of these media is associated with a reduced perception of interoceptive signals. In contrast, sporting activity is shown to be a way of promoting access to one's own internal body signals (Wallman-Jones et al., 2021, 2022). Whether the use of digital media has an influence on interoception and the extent to which sport could act as a counterpart here has not yet been investigated. Based on these assumptions, this project will first analyse the connections between young people's media use, sporting activity and body-related self-perception in order to subsequently develop concepts for promoting body-related self-perception through sport.

Principal investigator Dr. Valentin Benzing
Funding Burgergemeinde Bern: 3'000 CHF

Exergaming and cognitive functions (2020 - today)

Physically active breaks are seen as a way of restoring and even increasing cognitive performance after a strenuous work phase. Although the empirical evidence for this is steadily increasing, there are also some studies that have not been able to prove a positive effect of exercise breaks on cognitive performance at all, or even detected a negative effect. Differences in the characteristics of physical activity are postulated as one reason for the positive or negative effect of physical activity. For example, it is assumed that quantitative characteristics such as intensity and duration during exercise can have an influence on cognitive performance. Furthermore, it is also assumed that qualitative characteristics, such as the type of physical activity, can have a positive influence on cognitive performance. The dose-response relationship between qualitative and quantitative characteristics can be studied well in a controlled laboratory setting. Therefore, in these studies, exergaming (active video gaming) is used to test theoretical assumptions on underlying mechanisms, to systematically manipulate characteristics of physical activities and to investigate their influence on perception and cognitive performance. Initial studies were supported by a grant from the Burgergemeinde Bern.

Principal Investigator Prof. Dr. Mirko Schmidt
Staff  Dr. Sofia Anzeneder, Dr. Valentin Benzing, Cäcilia Zehnder
Funding Eccellenza; Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF): 435'372 CHF

School-related sporting activity and cognitive functions (2019-2024)

Although the positive effects of regular physical activity on physical and mental health in childhood and adolescence are widely recognised, the circumstances under which these effects can occur have not yet been conclusively clarified. Therefore, this SNF Eccellenza research project investigates how school-based sport and physical activity programmes should be designed to promote physical and cognitive performance in primary school children. To answer this question, several experiments are being carried out in a school context. The aim of the first, more basic research-oriented sub-project was to investigate the dose-response relationship between the characteristics of sport and physical activity and cognitive performance. Three consecutive studies investigated (1) which level of cognitive demand, (2) which duration and (3) which form of feedback during acute physical activity had the strongest influence on the cognitive performance of primary school children. The results indicate that a one-off, 15-minute, cognitively demanding physical activity combined with positive feedback has the strongest effect on cognitive performance (Anzeneder et al., 2023a, 2023b). Based on these findings, a second, more application-orientated sub-project will focus on developing group-based physical activity interventions for schools and testing their effectiveness. The aim is to provide concrete advice for teaching practice and the development of school-based movement interventions. In both sub-projects, the movement activity is carried out using an exergame (a combination of physical training and game). This makes it possible to manipulate the physical and cognitive characteristics of the movement activity and to individualise the cognitive demands of the task. The exergame was developed in collaboration with the Zurich-based FitTech startup Sphery and is structured in the form of a "jump & run game". In a further series of studies, the largely unexplored assumption that executive functions could be further improved not only through physical activity alone, but through a combination with social interaction, is also being investigated. This assumption is based on the fact that the high cognitive demands of social interaction could contribute to this improvement. However, as there is no empirical evidence to support this hypothesis, this series of studies will systematically investigate the extent to which social interaction during physical activity influences cognitive performance. To this end, a series of laboratory studies are being conducted in which study participants either play an exergame or complete a virtual cycle training programme.

Selected publications

Anzeneder, S., Zehnder, C., Martin-Niedecken, A. L., Schmidt, M., & Benzing, V. (2023a). Acute exercise and children’s cognitive functioning: What is the optimal dose of cognitive challenge? Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 66, Article 102404.
Anzeneder, S., Zehnder, C., Schmid, J., Martin-Niedecken, A. L., Schmidt, M., & Benzing, V. (2023b). Dose-response relation between the duration of a cognitively challenging bout of physical exercise and children’s cognition. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 33(8), 1439-1451.