Physical Activity Improves Academic Performance: Recess Gets Gold Star


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After-school activities such as soccer help meet the CDC recommendations for physical activity. Photo by Fletcherspears

A new study published today, in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, studied the relationship between physical activity and academic performance. Researchers at the Vrije University Medical Center, EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, Amsterdam, the Netherlands found a strong correlation between physical activity and test scores. Dr. Amika Singh and colleagues suggest that physical activity may help improve test scores because of the increase in blood and oxygen flow to the child’s brain. Physical activity also improves a child’s mood and decreases stress because of the hormones released during activity.

Physical Activity Correlates With Performance at School

Dr. Singh’s study, “Physical Activity and Performance at School: A systematic review of literature including a methodological quality assessment” was conducted to examine the correlation between physical activity and academic performance. Dr. Singh and colleagues conducted the study by reviewing other studies that had been done on physical activity and school performance from 1990 through 2010. The researchers extracted the following data from these studies: the study design, sample size, how physical activity was measured, how academic performance was measured, and the main results.

Finally, researchers reviewed the data and reached a conclusion: there is a positive correlation between physical activity and test scores. However, since researchers found only two of the 14 studies with high quality data, more research is needed before researchers can confirm that physical activity is positively linked to higher test scores.

Academic Performance vs. Physical Fitness for Children: Messages for Parents

Parents should help their children follow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recommendations for physical activity. The CDC recommends that children participate in at least an hour of physical activity every day.

Decoded Science asked Dr. Singh what message they would like to convey to parents.

“Looking solely on the health-based outcomes, it is recommended for children to be physically active for at least one hour per day. This is not an outcome of our study, but a widely acknowledged guideline [from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. Based on the literature we reviewed, we cannot draw any conclusions, but parents might be interested in the message that being physically active might positively contribute to the academic performance in their children.”

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