Publications

A list of publications put out by the department's service areas.

List of publications

How sport and physical activity enhance children’s learning what the research is telling us.

Prepared by: Centre for Sport and Recreation ResearchCurtin University, March 2015

This document is an updated version of:

Martin KE, 2010 Brain Boost Sport and Physical Activity Enhance Children’s Learning, The University of Western Australia, Department of Sport and Recreation 

Update prepared by:

Smith  J, Centre for Sport and Recreation Research, Curtin University, March 2015

How sport and physical activity helps your kids learn better

Activities such as running, swimming, kicking a footy or playing netball can all help your kids do better at school.

We know this because a lot of researchers in Australia and around the world have been investigating the links between sport, physical activity and academic achievement. Here at the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries, we’ve done our homework checked it twice and know their findings add up: being active in the playground and on the playing field helps kids perform better in the classroom.

The majority of research points to more physically active children being smarter, because exercise has biological, psychological and social benefits.

The evidence indicates that regular physical activity is likely to provide children with the optimum physiological condition for maximising learning.

Dr Karen Martin, Research Fellow, School of Population Health, UWA

In my experience as an educator, there is no question that kids who are physically active are more open to learning.

Stephen Breen, President, Western Australian Primary Principals’ Association

Some of the main research findings are:

  • There’s a positive link between physical activity and academic achievement.
  • Active boys and girls are more likely to pass exams.
  • Physical activity leads to improvements in maths and reading. 
  • Physical activity is likely to provide children with the optimum physiological condition for maximising learning.

On top of that, the research also finds that:

  • Physical activity improves memory, behaviour, concentration and reasoning ability.
  • Children reckon exercise is fun and they welcome the chance to do it at school.
  • Kids who exercise improve their motor skills and their on-task behaviour in lessons.
  • Particularly with girls, the more vigorous the physical activity the more success they will achieve academically.
  • Inactivity is bad for children.

How does exercise or being active do this?

  • Exercise increases blood flow to the cortex of the brain which is associated with memory and problem solving.
  • It can stimulate nerve growth and development in the brain.
  • It can increase the brain’s resistance to injury.

Physical activity enhances cognitive function improving memory, behaviour, concentration and academic achievement.

In other words, if you help your children get regular exercise, their brains will be fitter and will work better at school. And when our kids are fitter and do better at school, our whole community wins.

Physical activity and academic success: It's a win-win

Research tells us that there’s a positive link between children being active and playing sport and their ability to get better marks at school.

Sport and physical activity participation are generally promoted for their positive impacts on children’s physical and mental health.

However, the overall picture is better than that. Researchers believe that, with children, increased participation in sport and other forms of physical activity also enhances cognitive functioning (information processing), memory, concentration, behaviour and academic achievement.

In other words, research is telling us that there’s a positive link between children being active and playing sport and their ability to get better marks at school.

But the opposite can also be true. Inactivity in children can negatively impact brain health and aspects of cognition known as executive control (also called cognitive control in adults).

These negative impacts can involve inhibition (the ability to resist distractions and maintain focus), working memory (mentally holding and manipulating information) and cognitive flexibility (multi-tasking) – which are considered vital to success at school, at work and in life (Hillman et al., 2014).

For reasons such as these, the link between physical activity and academic achievement in children is of increasing interest in the fields of education and sport.

This publication is an update on research on the relationship between physical activity, sport, learning and academic success, Brain boost: Sport and physical activity enhance children’s learning (Martin, 2010).

It details findings from Australian and international research published in peer-reviewed journals and it provides summaries of intervention and longitudinal research, correlational studies, and research reviews.

The research might be newer but the message is the same: the links between physical activity and learning in children are positive and can be long-lasting. 

Unfortunately, with increasing pressure on schools to ensure children achieve academic success, physical activity classes (such as physical education and sport) are increasingly being pushed down the curriculum priority list.

Declining

A concern pointed out by several researchers is that the time spent on physical activity in schools has been steadily declining (Donnelly & Lambourne, 2011; Hardman K & Marshall J, 2000; Lowry, Wechsler, Kann, & Collins, 2009; Salmon J, Timperio A, Cleland V, & Venn A, 2005). 

In some schools, the average amount of time spent on moderate to vigorous physical activity in class has been reported as being less than 10 minutes a day. 

Another concern is that research indicates that removing or reducing physical activity classes at school may be detrimental to children’s physical and mental health (Ahn & Fedewa, 2011). That’s because physical activity at school is associated with the total daily physical activity of children (Dale D, Corbin CB, & Dale S, 2000; Myers, Strikmiller, Webber, & Berenson, 1996; Sallis JF et al., 2003). 

While some people believe more sport will leave less time for children to achieve better marks, this is not the case. 

The vast majority of research indicates that replacing academic learning sessions with physical activity does not have a detrimental impact on school grades. Indeed, some intervention research indicates that increased participation in physical activity leads to enhanced learning and better grades (de Greeff et al., 2014; Hollar et al.; Shephard RJ, Lavallee H, Volle M, La Barre R, & C, 1994). 

Evidence also suggests that achieving a threshold amount of physical activity may be necessary to acquire learning benefits (Davis et al., 2007; Ericsson & Karlsson, 2014).

As well as that, there’s also evidence that participation in vigorous physical activity may further enhance learning (Coe, Pivarnik, Womack, Reeves, & Malina, 2006; de Greeff et al., 2014; Hillman et al., 2014; Howie & Pate, 2012). 

Organised

Children have been found to be receptive to additional daily physical activity, especially when it offers high time-on-task, is fun, and reflects their interests (Macdonald, Abbott, lisahunter, Hay, & McCuaig, 2014). However, there is evidence that there has been a reduction over the years in children’s participation in physical activity and organised community sport (Dollman, Norton, & Norton, 2005; Donnelly & Lambourne, 2011).

Evidence also suggests that achieving a threshold amount of physical activity may be necessary to acquire learning benefits.

What does this evidence tell us?

What is the relationship between physical activity, fitness and academic achievement?

The large majority of university-based, internationally published research in this field has found a positive association between children’s physical activity participation and academic achievement. 

For instance, intervention and longitudinal studies have concluded that:

  • Short bouts of exercise benefit executive control/function (Chen, Yan, Yin, Pan, & Chang, 2014; Niemann et al., 2013; Tine & Butler, 2012).
  • Greater vigorous physical activity out of school results in higher test scores (Coe et al., 2006; Niemann et al., 2013).
  • The average academic achievement of children who received extra physical education is significantly higher than children who were in a control group which did not receive extra physical education (Ardoy et al., 2014; Shephard RJ et al., 1994).
  • Reading comprehension improves (Hillman et al., 2009; Stevens, To, Stevenson, & Lochbaum, 2008).
  • Physical activity intervention leads to significant improvements in children’s maths scores (Gao, Hannan, Xiang, Stodden, & Valdez, 2013; Hollar et al.; Riley, Lubans, Morgan, & Young, 2014; Stevens et al., 2008) and motor skills (Ericsson & Karlsson, 2014).
  • Cognitive benefits are maintained over time (Koivusilta, Nupponen, & Rimpela, 2012; Stevens et al., 2008; Wittberg, Northrup, & Cottrell, 2012).

The large majority of internationally published research has found a positive association between children’s physical activity participation and academic achievement.

Studies exploring the relationship between physical activity or fitness and academic achievement among children and adolescents have been carried out around the world, and are summarised in the intervention and longitudinal research, cross-sectional research and research reviews.

Research shows children can spend less time on academic learning, and more time being physically active during the school day, without affecting their academic success or progress.

On top of that, correlation studies (which explore the relationship between sport, physical activity or fitness and academic achievement retrospectively) have found:

  • A linear relationship between academic performance and physical activity with sport/physical activity a significant positive predictor of academic achievement with higher physical fitness, physical capacity and physical activity being associated with higher school ratings of scholastic ability (Dexter T, 1999; Dwyer T, Sallis JF, Blizzard L, Lazarus R, & Dean K, 2001; Kwak et al., 2009; Sigfusdottir, Kristjansson, & Allegrante, 2006).
  • Students who reported a greater level of exercise spent more time in sport and achieved higher grade point averages (Dexter T, 1999; Field T, Diego M, & Sanders CE, 2001; Fox, Barr-Anderson, Neumark-Sztainer, & Wall, 2010; Lidner KJ, 1999; Morales et al., 2011).
  • Greater physical activity level was associated with positive achievement orientation (Ardoy et al., 2014; Sallis, Prochaska, & Taylor, 2000).
  • Boys who were in the Healthy Fitness Zone (HFZ) for aerobic fitness or muscular endurance were found to be 2.5 to 3 times more likely to pass maths/reading exams. Girls who were in the Healthy Fitness Zone (HFZ) for aerobic fitness were 2 to 4 times as likely to meet or exceed reading and maths standards (Bass et al., 2013).

Superior learning

In addition to these findings, research shows children can spend less time in academic learning, and more time being physically active during the school day, without it affecting their academic success or progress. (Ahamed et al., 2007; Coe et al., 2006; Dollman J, Boshoff K, & Dodd G, 2006; Donnelly & Lambourne, 2011; Dwyer T, Coonan WE, Worsley LA, & Leitch DR, 1979; Sallis JF et al., 1999; Shephard, 1997.) 

Superior learning therefore occurs with greater physical activity participation (Gao et al., 2013; Shephard, 1996), supporting the theory that increasing physical activity has a positive impact on learning (Dwyer T, Blizzard L, & Dean K, 1996; Lambourne et al., 2013). 

However, some studies have failed to find a relationship between physical activity and learning (Fisher, Juszczak, & Friedman, 1996; LeBlanc et al., 2012; Tomporowski PD, 1986), and other studies identified the relationship for girls only (Carlson et al., 2008; Shachaf, Katz, & Shoval, 2013).

There tends to be an overwhelming amount of literature indicating physical activity is related to academic performance (Jonker, Elferink-Gemser, Toering, Lyons, & Visscher, 2010; Jonker, Elferink-Gemser, & Visscher, 2009; Kristjánsson, Sigfúsdóttir, Allegrante, & Helgason, 2009; Kwak et al., 2009; Lambourne et al., 2013). 

Findings that consider the intensity of exercise have shown that undertaking physical activity at vigorous to moderate intensity is related to better cognitive performance (Morales et al., 2011).

School success

With evidence that children who are involved in more organised, community sports or recreation are likely to perform better academically, the benefits from implementing strategies to increase children’s involvement in community sports seem to extend to school success.

A limitation of cross-sectional studies is that they do not explain the direction of observed relationships; in this instance, children who perform well academically may be more likely to be involved in sport and greater physical activity.

However, results from intervention studies (Ardoy et al., 2014; Chen et al., 2014; Hillman et al., 2014; Macdonald et al., 2014; Niemann et al., 2013; Sallis JF et al., 1999; Shachaf et al., 2013; Shephard RJ et al., 1994; Tine & Butler, 2012) provide some evidence that gains in academic achievement are achieved following greater physical activity participation, suggesting that physical activity is impacting on learning.

Superior learning therefore occurs with greater physical activity participation, supporting the theory that increasing physical activity has a positive impact on learning.

How can physical activity and sport improve learning?

Learning can be examined in different ways and is often measured via cognitive and academic testing. A multitude of learning outcomes have been compared with physical activity or assessed following physical activity interventions. 

This varied approach in measuring learning outcomes has led to difficulty in determining the strength of the relationship between physical activity and cognitive functioning and academic success, and in undertaking meta-analysis of data (Martin, 2010; Sibley & Etnier, 2003). 

However, the strategy of measuring multiple responses has aided with identifying potential pathways between physical activity, cognitive functioning and academic success, and these have been collated to develop the Move to Learn Model (Figure 1) (Martin, 2010).  

This model, developed for this review, highlights the many pathways where sport and physical activity have the potential to affect learning, test scores and academic success. 

Move to learn

Figure 1: Move to Learn, theoretical pathways linking physical activity, cognitive functioning and academic success (Martin, 2010)

In summary, the evidence indicates that physical activity enhances children’s cognitive functioning, concentration and on-task behaviour.

Intervention research relating to the effects of physical activity on cognitive processing indicates that:

  • Physical activity improves children’s cognitive control, concentration, attention and reasoning ability (Ardoy et al., 2014; Budde, Voelcker-Rehage, Pietraßyk-Kendziorra, Ribeiro, & Tidow, 2008; Hillman et al., 2014; Hillman et al., 2009; Taras H, 2005).
  • On-task behaviour can be improved with short bouts of exercise (Macdonald et al., 2014; Mahar, 2006). 

As well as that, correlation studies and reviews of research have concluded:

  • There is a significant positive relationship between children’s physical activity and cognitive functioning (Davis et al., 2007; Kwak et al., 2009; Sibley & Etnier, 2003).
  • Physical activity benefits children’s achievement and cognitive outcomes (Fedewa & Ahn, 2011; Tomporowski P.D., 2003).

Evidence of the physiological affects of physical activity on the brain assist in explaining this relationship. Exercise can increase levels of a brain growth factor (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), stimulate nerve growth and development in the brain and increase the brain’s resistance to injury, reduce plasma noradrenaline (a vasoconstrictor), increase blood flow to the cortex of the brain (L. Chaddock et al., 2010; Laura Chaddock et al., 2010; Cotman CW & Berchtold NC, 2000; Herholz B et al., 1987; Jennings G et al., 1986). 

This evidence indicates that regular physical activity is likely to provide children with the optimum physiological condition for maximising learning (Martin, 2010).

Higher participation in physical activity is the key

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2012) indicates that of 2.8 million children aged from five to 14 years old, 1.7 million (60%) participated in at least one organised sport outside of school hours.

Evidence indicates that despite national initiatives to increase children’s physical activity, children are still not doing enough to meet the recommended levels. 

But is this enough? Given that the health benefits of regular physical activity are widely known, evidence indicates that despite national initiatives to increase children’s physical activity, children are still not doing enough to meet the recommended levels (Daly & Joyce, 2010; Guthold, Cowan, Autenrieth, Kann, & Riley, 2010).

Efforts need to be made worldwide to increase levels of physical activity among schoolchildren.

One study looked at the patterns of physical activity and sedentary behaviour among 13-to-15-year-old school children from 34 mainly developing countries (Guthold et al. 2010). It found that the majority of students did not meet physical activity recommendations. In addition, their levels of sedentariness—that is, the time spent sitting down—were high.

These findings suggest efforts need to be made worldwide to increase levels of physical activity among schoolchildren. Participation in physical activity is therefore not rising (Martin K et al., 2009). 

Although, a growing body of evidence indicates that schools can be encouraged to maximise the time children spend in physical activity and sport and be reassured that replacing academic time with physical activity and sport will not have a detrimental effect on their academic success. Indeed, it may actually support and optimise learning. 

Other strategies to promote children’s physical activity opportunities, such as providing environments that focus on physical activity and reducing obesity rates, are warranted.

The benefits of greater physical activity participation include assisting with maximising children’s learning, as well as improving their physical, social and mental health – benefits that are likely to extend into adolescence and adult life.

Intervention and longitudinal research

Relationship between physical activity, sport or fitness and cognitive testing or academic test results in children.

Terms

  • +: positive association
  • Ass: association
  • CAT3: Canadian Achievement Test 3
  • EEG: electroencephalogram
  • FCAT: Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test
  • IQ: intelligence quotient
  • PA: physical activity
  • PAQ-C: Physical Activity Questionnaire for Children
  • PE: physical education
  • SES: socio-economic status
  • SOFIT: System for Observing Fitness Instruction Time
  • WRAT3: Wide Range Achievement Test V3.

Ardoy et al., 2014, (Ardoy et al., 2014) University of Granada, Spain

Study design

Intervention study group-randomised controlled trial.

Sample

67 adolescents.

Methods

Control group, experimental group 1 and experimental group 2. CG received usual PE (two sessions/week), experimental group received four PE sessions/week and experimental group 2 received four PE sessions/week of high intensity.

Measures 

  • Cognitive performance (non-verbal and verbal ability, abstract reasoning, spatial ability, verbal reasoning and numerical ability) was assessed by the Spanish Overall and Factorial Intelligence Test.

Results

All the cognitive performance variables, except verbal reasoning, increased more in experimental group 2 than in control group (all P < 0.05). Average school grades (e.g., mathematics) increased more in experimental group 2 than in control group. Overall, experimental group 2 improved more than experimental group 1, without differences between experimental group 1 and the control group.

Association

+

Study limitations

The main limitation of this study was its small sample size and consequent small statistical power.

Chen et al., 2014, (Chen et al., 2014) Yangzhou University, Yangzhou, Jiangsu, People’s Republic of China

Study design

Intervention study, randomised control trial.

Sample

Thirty-four third-grade children and 53 fifth-grade pre-adolescents.

Methods

Pre-adolescent participants were randomly assigned into either an acute exercise group or a control group.

Measures 

  • Participants completed inhibition, working memory, and shifting-related executive function tasks prior to and following the treatment.

Results

Acute exercise benefited three primary aspects of executive function in general, regardless of the pre-adolescent age group, whereas the distinct components of executive function had (Gao et al., 2013) different developmental trajectories.

Association

+

Study limitations

The same instructor was utilised and the experimental process was not blinded, it is possible that the instructor consciously or unconsciously provided information (e.g., tone of voice, instructions, encouragement) differently to participants in each group, which is particularly difficult to control in group testing.

Gao et al., 2013, (Gao et al., 2013)  The University of Minnesota, USA

Study design

A repeated-measures crossover design was used.

Sample

208 Latino school children. Year 1, Grade 4 students.

Methods

Students were assigned to the intervention group and offered 30 minutes of exercise (DDR, aerobic dance) three times per week. Grade-3 and Grade-5 students made up the comparison group and were offered no structured exercise at school. In Year 2, the Grade-4 students were again assigned to the intervention, whereas Grade-5 and Grade-6 students were in the comparison group.

Measures

  • The baseline measures included time to complete a one-mile run, BMI, and reading and math scores. Data were collected again nine months later. Overall, data were collected in 2009–2011 and analysed in 2012.

Results

The Dance Dance Revolution based exercise intervention improved children’s cardiorespiratory endurance and math scores over time.

Association

+

Study limitations

It was not possible to investigate the potential confounding effect that age and maturation and selection bias had on the outcome variables.

Ericsson & Karlsson, 2014, (Ericsson & Karlsson, 2014) Malmö University, Sweden

Study design

Longitudinal study design.

Intervention.

Sample

All pupils born 1990–1992.

Methods

An intervention group (n = 129) achieved daily PE (5 X 45 min/week) and if needed one extra lesson of adapted motor training. The control group (n = 91) had PE two lessons/week.

Measures 

  • Motor skills were evaluated by the Motor Skills Development as Ground for Learning observation checklist and school achievements by marks in Swedish, English, mathematics, and PE and proportion of pupils who qualified for upper secondary school.

Results

Daily PE and adapted motor skills training during the compulsory school years is a feasible way to improve not only motor skills but also school performance.

Association

+

Study limitations

Lack of separate baseline motor skills data for the intervention and the control group.

Hillman et al., 2014, (Hillman et al., 2014) University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, USA

Study design

Intervention study.

Randomised control trial.

Sample

221 children (7–9 years).

Methods

Randomly assigned to a 9-month afte-rschool PA program or a wait-list control.

Measures 

  • In addition to changes in fitness (maximal oxygen consumption), electrical activity in the brain (P3-ERP) and behavioural measures (accuracy, reaction time) of executive control were collected by using tasks that modulated attentional inhibition and cognitive flexibility.

Results

Fitness improved more among intervention participants from pre-test to post-test compared with the wait-list control. The intervention enhanced cognitive performance and brain function during tasks requiring greater executive control. These findings demonstrate a causal effect of a PA program on executive control, and provide support for PA for improving childhood cognition and brain health.

Association

+

Study limitations

The use of a wait-list control renders it difficult to attribute the observed group differences entirely to the PA participation because other aspects of the program such as the educational component, social interaction with peers and intervention staff, and refining motor skills may have contributed to the results.

Macdonald, Abbott, lisahunter, Hay, & McCuaig, 2014, (Macdonald et al., 2014) University of Queensland, Australia

Study design

Intervention study.

Sample

Twelve Year 5 students, their classroom teachers, and the school principal’s perspectives are shared in this paper.

They were key informants from 107 students and five teachers who participated in the intervention.

Methods

Qualitative focus.

Measures 

  • Researcher field observations, along with a diary kept by the dedicated AKAM teacher, were used to interrogate the complexity and pragmatics of both delivering the intervention and succeeding in the intervention.

Results

Data suggested that the intervention group benefited from and welcomed the additional daily physical activity when it offered high time-on-task, fun, and reflected students’ interests. The intervention design with a dedicated physical activity leader and professional development support seemingly promoted teachers’ confidence and enthusiasm.

Association

+

Niemann et al., 2013, (Niemann et al., 2013) Jacobs University Bremen, Germany

Study design

Intervention.

Sample

Primary school students (n = 42, mean age = 9.69, SD = .44; experimental group (EG), n = 27; control group (CG), n = 15).

Methods

The students were randomly assigned to an experimental (EG) and a control group (CG).

Measures 

  • Physical activity
  • Saliva sampling and analysis
  • Cognitive testing.

Results

The results indicate that intensive physical activity only attenuates the reactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis in habitually low active preadolescents, but had a beneficial effect on cognitive performance for all participants independent of their physical activity level and testosterone.

Association

+

Study limitations

The size of the saliva sample time.

Points was relatively small (one pre-exercise, one post-exercise).

Riley, Lubans, Morgan, & Young, 2014, (Riley et al., 2014) University of Newcastle, Australia

Study design

Intervention design, randomised control trial.

Sample

Two classes from a single school (n = 54).

Methods

Classes were randomised to receive either the six-week EASY Minds intervention (n = 27) or follow their usual school programme (n = 27). The intervention involved the embedding of PA across the pre-existing mathematics program for 3 × 60 min sessions per week. Changes in PA were measured using accelerometers and ‘on task’ behaviour was measured using momentary time sampling observation.

Measures 

  • EASY Minds program.

Results

The EASY Minds program demonstrated that integrating movement across the primary mathematics syllabus is feasible and efficacious in enhancing school based-PA and improving on-task behaviour in mathematics lessons.

Association

+

Study limitations

The program was delivered by the researcher, a HPE trained specialist, with extensive experience in the primary classroom.

Shachaf, Katz, & Shoval, 2013, (Shachaf et al., 2013) Givat Washington Academic College of Education

Study design

Intervention design.

Sample

491 high school students in Grades 10, 11 and 12.

Methods

Participants divided into three comparison groups.

Measures 

  • Academic achievement test.

Results

Results of the study indicate the existence of a positive relationship between academic achievement and participation in competitive sport for female high school students, while a negative relationship was found between academic achievement and participation in competitive sport for male students. Female athletes who participated in competitive sport attained a higher level of academic achievement in numeracy and verbal reasoning than females who did not participate in competitive sport. On the other hand, the results indicate that male high school students who did not participate in competitive sport attained a higher level of academic achievement in numeracy and verbal reasoning than male athletes who participated in competitive sport.

Association

+ for females
– for males

Study limitations

Did not include the addition of an intervention in order to ascertain whether the relationship between academic achievement and sport at different levels of intensity changes as a result of the intervention.

Tine & Butler, 2012, (Tine & Butler, 2012) Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, USA

Study design

Intervention.

Randomised experimental design.

Sample

Participants (n=164) were sixth and seventh grade students at a public middle school in New England (age range: 10 years, 4 months–13 years, 6 months).

Methods

Stratified sampling was used to randomly assign students to the experimental (exercise) or control (movie) condition. Participants in the experimental condition (n=86; 45 female and 41 male) included 44 lower-income participants and 42 higher-income participants. The control condition (n= 78; 40 female and 38 male) was comprised of 36 lower-income participants and 42 higher-income participants.

Measures 

  • Physical characteristics
  • Heart rate
  • Test of attention.

Results

Improved selective attention.

Association

+

Study limitations

Did not measure/ address how long the selective attention benefits from an acute bout of exercise last for higher- and lower-income children.

Koivusilta, Nupponen, & Rimpela, 2012, University of Turku, Finland (Koivusilta et al., 2012)

Study design

Longitudinal study design.

Sample

The Adolescent Health and Lifestyle Surveys (AHLS), collected biennially in 1981–89 (baseline) and representing 14- and 16-year-old Finns were individually linked with national registries of the highest educational level and SEP.

Methods

Multinomial logistic regression analysis was used to study the associations between the outcomes (highest attained educational level, SEP) and PA (sports clubs, spontaneous, intensity).

Measures 

  • Highest educational level
  • Type of physical activity
  • Childhood socio-economic background
  • School performance.

Results

Participation in physical activity in adolescence and particularly its high intensity, predicts higher educational levels and SEP in early middle age. School performance to some degree mediates the impact of PA. PA behaviours in adolescence—or possibilities to participate in PA—are a potential mechanism in generating better health of higher socio-economic and educational groups in adult age.

Association

+

Study limitations

The boys’ lower participation rates in the surveys led to a slightly higher proportion of women in the follow-up as compared with the entire Finnish population of the same age.

Stevens, To, Stevenson, & Lochbaum, 2008 (Stevens et al., 2008) Texas Tech University, USA

Study design

Longitudinal study.

Sample

Elementary School students.

Methods

Structural equation modelling.

Measures 

  • Socio-economic status
  • Physical activity
  • Physical education
  • Prior mathematics achievement
  • Prior reading achievement.

Results

Physical activity was significantly and positively related to both mathematics and reading achievement in boys and girls. Physical education participation was not significantly related to achievement. Socio-economic status accounted for approximately 26% of the physical activity. Future longitudinal research is discussed that incorporates more comprehensive physical activity and achievement variables.

Association

+

Study limitations

Assessments did not consider the intensity or frequency of each child’s participation in physical education.

Wittberg, Northrup, & Cottrell, 2012, (Wittberg et al., 2012) Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department, Parkersburg, USA

Study design

Longitudinal study.

Sample

Three cohorts of students (n = 50.1% male) enrolled in a West Virginia public school system.

Students.

Methods

n =1,725 received baseline fitness and academic assessments as fifth graders and at a 2-year follow-up assessment.

Measures 

FitnessGram to assess fitness in aerobic capacity and WESTEST, a criterion-based assessment, for academic performance.

Results

Students’ aerobic capacity is associated with greater academic achievement as defined by standardised test scores. This advantage appears to be maintained over time.

Association

+

Study limitations

FitnessGram tests were administered by different physical education teachers who, despite training and review, may have varied administration techniques.

Hollar, Massiah et. al. 2010, (Hollar et al.) University of Miami

Study design

Intervention involving four study schools and one control school.

Sample

This study analysed data from a sub-population incorporating children who qualified for free or subsidised lunches (n=1197). 

Methods

Two-year intervention of dietary and physical activity intervention. Standardised academic test scores examined at the end of each year. Analysis adjusted for school clustering of behaviour and demographics.

Measures 

  • FCAT scores (standardised testing)
  • Demographics
  • BMI.

Results

Overall, children attending intervention schools had significantly higher maths scores in both study years. 

Association

+

Study limitations

Only one control school. As analysis only incorporated  lower SES, results may have limited generalisability.

Hillman, Pontifex, et.al., 2009, (Hillman et al., 2009) University of Illinois

Study design

Intervention incorporating moderate treadmill walking.

Sample

20 pre-adolescents (mean age 9.5, SD 0.5yrs) from Illinois.

Methods

Guardian completed health and demographic questionnaire. Children visited laboratory on two separate days (mean 10, SD 9 days apart) involving either resting session then 20 minute PA session (or order vice versa 50% of children). Tests administered after either rest or PA session.

Measures 

  • EEG at 64 sites
  • Modified flanker test (to assess inhibitory control) 
  • Academic level via WRAT3
  • Cardio-respiratory fitness using indirect calorimetry.

Results

Significantly better performance at reading comprehension after PA session compared with rest. No effect for arithmetic or spelling. Significant improvement in response accuracy and larger P3 amplitude (cognitive control) following PA session only.

Association

+ (reading, cognitive control) 
0 (arithmetic and spelling)

Study limitations

Small sample size. Testing order did not alter during the study and may have affected results (reading, spelling, then arithmetic).

Budde, Voelcker-Rehage, et. al. 2008, (Budde et al., 2008) Humboldt University

Study design

115 children attending an elite performance school in Berlin (mean age 15, SD 0.9 years).

Sample

Intervention with random assignment to coordinative exercise or sport lesson intervention with pre- and post- concentration and attention testing.

Methods

Children randomly assigned to experimental (coordinative exercise) or control group (normal sport lesson). Pre-test before session and post-test after either coordinative exercise or normal sport lesson.

Measures 

  • D2-test (test of concentration and attention).

Results

D2-test results were significantly higher post-exercise intervention (both coordinative and normal sports lesson). Interaction between group by performance thus subsequent.

ANOVA indicated that coordinative exercise led to significantly higher improvement in concentration and attention.

Association

+

Study limitations

No inactive control group. D2-test learning may have occurred thus resulting in higher scores post-intervention.

Davis, Tomporowski, et al.,  2007, (Davis et al., 2007) Medical College of Georgia

Study design

Intervention where children were randomly assigned to low-dose, high-dose exercise program or control condition.

Sample

94 sedentary overweight children aged 7-11 years from Augusta, Georgia.

Methods

Standardised cognitive assessment test was administered before and after intervention. 

Measures 

  • Cognitive Assessment Systems (standardised test for cognitive processes).

Results

Planning scores for high-dose group significantly greater than control.  No difference between low-dose and control.

Association

+

Study limitations

Data from overweight sedentary children only thus may have limited generalisability. Children not blinded to their assignment group.

Ahamed, Macdonald et. al. 2007, (Ahamed et al., 2007)

Study design

16-month cluster randomised controlled trial. Intervention involving Action School BC with pre- and post- academic performance testing. 

Sample

Data from eight schools including 214 children from grades 4 and 5.

Methods

Half schools participated in higher PE each week and thus less academic activity. Control schools maintained usual activity. 

Measures

  • CAT3 (academic achievement)
  • Teacher logs of PE time
  • PAQ-C to measure child report of PA. 

Results

Although children spent less time in academic activity in the higher PE schools, this had no significant impact on standardised test scores.

Association

+ (improved learning per unit of time)

Study limitations

Children at the higher scoring schools may have been higher performers. School SES not assessed. PA self-report used.

Coe, Pivarnik, Womack, et. al. 2006, (Coe et al., 2006) Michigan State University

Study design

Intervention study where children were randomly assigned to PE during first or second semester.

Sample

214 grade 6 children attending one Michigan Public School.

Methods

Children were randomly assigned to PE during either first or second semester. When not doing PE, children participated in an exploratory task such as art or computer. 

Measures 

  • Grades (maths, sciences, English, world studies) 
  • Standardised test scores
  • PA assessed using SOFIT and 3 Day Physical Activity Recall.

Results

Although children spent less time in academic activity while enrolled in PE, this had no significant impact on standardised combined test scores. High vigorous activity out of school was significantly associated with higher combined test scores.

Association

+ (improved learning per unit of time)
+ for vigorous activity 

Study limitations

Only one school. No control group. SES not assessed.

Mahar, Murphy et al., 2006, (Mahar, 2006) East Carolina University

Study design

Classroom-based intervention incorporating ‘Energizers’- 10 minutes’ classroom-based PA each day.

Sample

243 kindergarten through to Year 4 children in 15 classes at one school in North Carolina.

Methods

Pre- and post-test of observed on-task behaviour of 3rd and 4th grade students only.

Measures 

  • Pedometers
  • Observation of on-task behaviour for each child every 10 seconds. 

Results

Children in Energizer groups took significantly more steps post intervention compared to control group. Children in the Energizer group also scored better in on-task behaviours post intervention.

Association

+

Study limitations

Pedometers only measured steps not PA intensity. Test performance may have been influenced by other factors (than PA).  

Sallis and McKenzie  1999, (Sallis JF et al., 1999) San Diego State University

Study design

Intervention study  with two experimental groups and one control  group.

Sample

Southern California single school district, seven schools.

Methods

Schools were randomly assigned to PE taught either by specialists, trained teacher or control (class teacher). 

Measures 

  • Achievement test
  • Direct observation of time spent in PE classes.

Results

Children in Specialist and Trained Teacher schools spent significantly less time in non-PE academic and significantly more time doing PE than control schools without impacting on standardised academic achievement test scores.

Association

+ (improved learning per unit of time)

Study limitations

Sample from affluent school district. Measure of PE class time only (no measure sport or time or PA time).

Shephard and Lavallee, 1994 (Shephard RJ et al., 1994) University of Toronto

Study design

Intervention study.

Sample

546 primary school children from an urban and rural school.

Methods

Study group received one additional hour per day of PE, taught by a specialist PE teacher. Controls received 13-14% more academic time than the experimental group. 

Measures 

  • Unweighted average of classroom marks for: French (first language), maths, English, science and mean of all five assessments.

Results

No significant difference in academic achievement detected in first year of study. However, the next year grades 2, 3, 5 and 6 study group students significantly outperformed control group students in academic achievement. Girls gained a larger academic advantage than boys in the enhanced physical education class. 

Association

+ (one year later)

Study limitations

No information regarding the two-year post intervention period prior to follow up. Intervention held at same school, contamination of study and/or control groups may have occurred.

Dwyer, Coonan et al., 1979 (Dwyer T et al., 1979; Dwyer T, Coonon W.E., Leitch D.R., Hetzel B.S., & Baghurst P.A., 1983), University of Tasmania

Study design

Intervention study with two experimental and one control group.

Sample

519 grade 5 (10-year-olds) from seven self-selected schools in Adelaide. Three classes were selected from each school. 

Methods

The three classes randomly allocated to one of three groups:  fitness, skill or control. Intervention took place over 14 weeks. Trained and blinded personnel performing physical measurements and marking tests.

Measures

  • Height and weight
  • Skin-fold thickness
  • Endurance fitness
  • Two measures of academic success (arithmetic and reading tests).

Results

Despite reduction in academic learning time for the fitness and skills groups (210 mins per week, 14% of total teaching time) no significant differences in arithmetic performance or reading skills gains evident. At two-year follow-up, intervention schools had an advantage in teacher ratings of classroom behaviour.

Association

+ (improved learning per unit of time)

Study implications

Short period of observation.

Cross-sectional research

Relationship between physical activity, sport or fitness and cognitive testing or academic test results in children.

Terms

  • +: positive association
  • 0: no association
  • Ass: association
  • BMI: Body mass index
  • EAT: Eating Among Teens
  • CAT6: California Achievement Tests version 6
  • CST: California Standards Tests
  • GPA: grade point average
  • ISAT: Illinois Standards Achievement Test
  • K-BIT: Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test
  • LTAQ: Leisure Time Activity Questionnaire
  • MCAS: Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment Systems
  • PA: physical activity
  • PE: physical education.

Bass et al., 2013, (Bass et al., 2013) Illinois State University, USA

Sample

Participants were students from a public middle school (grades 6–8) in central Illinois.

Methods

Correlational design.

Measures

  • The FITNESSGRAM test battery assessed students (n = 838) in the five components of health-related fitness. The Illinois Standardised Achievement Test (ISAT) was used to assess academic achievement in reading and math.

Results

The largest correlations were seen for aerobic fitness and muscular endurance (ranging from 0.12 to 0.27, all p < 0.05). Boys in the Healthy Fitness Zone (HFZ) for aerobic fitness or muscular endurance were 2.5–3 times more likely to pass their math or reading exams. Girls in the HFZ for aerobic fitness were approximately 2–4 times as likely to meet or exceed reading and math test standards.

Association

+

Study limitations

First, this was a cross- sectional study, and causation cannot be established.

Pirrie & Lodewyk, 2012, (Pirrie & Lodewyk, 2012) Brock University, Ontario, Canada

Sample

Participants were two classes of fourth-grade students in Ontario (n = 40).

Methods

The study recruited 40 fourth-grade students from two classes in two independent schools (one semi-urban [n = 19] and one rural [n = 21]) in a school district situated in south-western Ontario, Canada.

Measures

  • Students in the two classes completed standardised tests for each cognitive process both after no physical activity and following it (20-minute MVPA within a 45-minute lesson).

Results

The results indicate that performance on the planning test significantly improved after physical activity (p<0.001), controlling for sequence and habituation/retesting effects. No improvement was observed for attention, simultaneous processing, or successive processing.

Association

+ planning
0 attention
0 simultaneous processing
0 successive processing

Study limitations

For all of the cognitive tests, test administration timing post-activity may have impacted the strength of results.

Jonker, Elferink-Gemser, Toering, Lyons, & Visscher, 2010, (Jonker et al., 2010) University Medical Center Groningen

Sample

128 elite soccer players aged 12-16 years, and 164 aged-matched controls (typical students).

Methods

Elite youth aged matched with typical students.

Measures

  • Self-completed questionnaire.

Results

Findings suggests that the relatively stronger self-regulatory skills (self-conscious, goal-oriented, and problem-focused behaviours) reported by the elite youth soccer players may be essential for performance at the highest levels of sport competition and in academia.

Association

+

Study limitations

Caution is needed regarding this proposition, as it may also be the case that the elite youth soccer players are high achievers in sport and education because of an inherent ability to self-regulate. In other words, do the elite youth soccer players compete at a high level because their self-regulatory skills were developed through sport, or because these skills were inherent?

Jonker, Elferink-Gemser, & Visscher, 2009, (Jonker et al., 2009) University Medical Center Groningen

Sample

400 talented athletes participated in this study.

Methods

Athletes were classified as ‘talented athletes’ on the basis of their qualifications by the Netherlands Olympic Committee and Sports Federation (NOC*NSF) and were therefore all part of a talent program.

Measures

  • Self-completed questionnaire.

Results

When compared with the national average, the athletes in 2006-07 attended pre- university classes more often (χ2 = 57.001, p<.05). Of the 2006-07 athletes, a higher percentage participated in pre-university programs compared with that of athletes in 1992-93 (χ2 (1, n = 400) = 32.003, p<.05), whereas the national averages showed stability (χ2 = .325, p>.05).

Association

+

Study limitations

Within the Dutch educational system, all students are used to the possibility to ask for extra supervision or help by a mentor if required. Therefore, talented athletes who are also high achievers academically may be based on differences in instruction caused by the special provisions offered to them.

Kristjánsson, Sigfúsdóttir, Allegrante, & Helgason, 2009, (Kristjánsson et al., 2009) Reykjavik University, Iceland

Sample

5,810 adolescents.

Methods

Self-completed questionnaire.

Measures

  • Academic achievement
  • School contentment
  • Body mass Index
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Physical activity.

Results

Model explained 36% of the variance in academic achievement and 24% in school contentment. BMI and sedentary lifestyle were negatively related to school contentment and academic achievement, but physical activity was positively related to school contentment and academic achievement (P< .01). School contentment was strongly related to academic achievement but only a weak mediator of the health behaviour indicators.

Findings may inform the efforts to improve academic achievement and the general health status of youth.

Association

+

Study limitations

Some of the measured relationships are quite weak, particularly those stemming from BMI and sedentary lifestyle.

Kwak et al., 2009, Unit for Preventive Nutrition, Sweden (Kwak et al., 2009)

Sample

Swedish 9th-grade students (n = 232; mean age = 16 years; 52% girls).

Methods

Groups of pupils, within each school (n = 42), were randomly selected proportional to the sizes of the respective schools.

Measures

  • School grades, pubertal phase, skinfold thickness, cardiovascular fitness, and physical activity were measured objectively. Mother’s education, family structure, and parental monitoring were self-reported. Data were analysed with linear regression analyses.

Results

In girls, academic achievement was associated with vigorous physical activity and not mediated by fitness, whereas in boys only fitness was associated with academic achievement.

Association

+

Study limitations

Further studies are necessary to investigate the potential longitudinal effect of vigorous physical activity on academic achievement, the role of fitness herein and the implications of these findings for schools. The use of accelerometers, even though seen as a ‘‘golden standard’’; they are limited in capturing any activities with little displacement of the body, such as cycling and snow-boarding.

LeBlanc et al., 2012, (LeBlanc et al., 2012) Southeastern Louisiana University, USA

Sample

Participants were 1,963 children in fourth to sixth grades.

Methods

Correlational design. Adiposity was assessed by calculating body mass index (BMI) percentile and percent body fat and academic achievement with statewide standardised tests in four content areas. Socioeconomic status and age were control variables.

Measures

  • Children wore an accelerometer for three days to provide objective measurement of physical activity. In addition, the association between weight status and academic achievement was examined by comparing children who could be classified as “extremely obese” and the rest of the sample, as well as comparing children who could be classified as normal weight, overweight, or obese. Extreme obesity was defined as >1.2 times the 95th percentile

Results

These results do not support the hypotheses that increased adiposity is associated with decreased academic achievement or that greater physical activity is related to improved achievement.

Association

0

Study limitations

These results are limited by methodological weaknesses, especially the use of cross-sectional data.

Morales, Pellicer-Chenoll, Garcia-Masso, Gomis, & Gonzalez, 2011,  Universitat Ramon Llull, Barcelona, Spain (Morales et al., 2011)

Sample

284 students (158 girls, 126 boys) with an average age of 14.7 years participated.

Methods

Self-completed survey instrument

Measures

  • Physical activity measures
  • Student academic records

Results

Results showed that there was a linear relationship between academic performance and physical activity; nevertheless, there was a trend to stronger correlation when modelling the relationship between these variables with a quadratic equation.

Association

+

Study limitations

Did not directly account for whether academic performance and physical activity might be better explained with a second-order equation.

Fox, Barr-Anderson, et. al. 2010,(Fox et al.) University of Minnesota

Sample

31 middle and high schools in metropolitan Minnesota, n = 7746 children.

Methods

Students completed the EAT survey, demographic information, sport team participation and GPA questions. 

Measures

  • Sports team participation (on how many sports teams did you play in the last 12 months) and academic grades (GPA) (two grades achieved most often)
  • Self report of PA measured using LTEQ.

Results

High school girls: PA and sport team participation independently associated with higher GPA; high school boys sports team participation independently associated with higher GPA; middle school students PA and sports team participation combined association with higher GPA.

Association

+

Study limitations

All data were self report. 

Roberts, Freed, McCarthy, 2010, (Roberts, Freed, & McCarthy, 2010) University of California 

Sample

1989 children in Years 5, 7 and 9 attending middle- to high-income South Carolina school district public schools. 

Methods

Aerobic fitness, body weight, student demographic data, standardised test score data and school district demographic data were taken from school and district information. Parents reported additional demographic data.

Measures

  • Fitnessgram
  • demographic
  • overweight risk status (from CDC weight status cut-points)
  • California Achievement Tests version 6 (CAT6) and California Standards Tests (CST).

Results

Aerobic fitness significantly related to standardised test scores. BMI significantly inversely related to standardised test scores.

Association

+

Study limitations

Limitations to Fitnessgram as measure of aerobic fitness. Children’s efforts may have impacted upon Fitnessgram results. 

Carlson, Fulton et.al. 2008, (Carlson et al., 2008) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Sample

5,316 kindergarten children nationally representative  sample from longitudinal study.

Methods

Teachers reported PE. Children were given maths and reading tests. Demographics collected from parents via telephone.

Measures

  • PE minutes per week collected from teachers
  • Maths and reading scores on item response theory scale.

Results

Girls who were enrolled in higher amounts of PE achieved higher maths and reading scores.

Association

+ (girls)
0 (boys) 

Study limitations

Time spent in PE self report and no reliability or validity assessment of this measure.

Castelli, Hillman, et. al. 2007, (Castelli, Hillman, Buck, & Erwin, 2007)  University of Illinois

Sample

259 3rd and 5th grade children at four public schools.

Methods

Children completed fitness testing and ISAT at school. 

Measures

  • Fitnessgram (muscle fitness, aerobic capacity, body composition) during PE
  • ISAT.

Results

Physical fitness positively associated with academic achievement. BMI inversely related to academic achievement. Associations noted for total academic and maths and reading achievement. 

Association

+

Study limitations

Methods used for measuring fitness have limitations. Sampling not random.

Tremarche, Robinson, 2007, (Tremarche, Robinson, & Graham, 2007) Bridgewater State College

Sample

Convenience sample of 311 4th grade students attending two Massachusetts schools. 

Methods

Comparison of test results at two schools: School 1 providing 28 hours and School 2 providing 56 hours of PE per year.  

Measures

  • MCAS (maths and English language and arts)
  • School demographics.

Results

Average English and language arts score higher at school with PE time greater than school with lower PE time. 

No difference in maths score averages between scores. 

Association

+ (English and language arts)
0 (maths) 

Study limitations

Convenience sample of children tested. 

While many school demographics measured, other school characteristics may have influences results. 

Dollman, Boshhoff et al 2006, (Dollman J et al., 2006) University of South Australia

Sample

117 South Australian Primary Schools.

Methods

Principal (or representative) completed questionnaire. Academic attainment data received from the education department. School averages for numeracy and literacy calculated. 

Measures

  • Minutes each class spent in PE during previous week.

Results

Schools with high levels of time spent in PE do not have lower academic achievement despite spending less time in academic subjects. No difference in academic scores in relation to time spent in PE. 

Association

+ (improved learning per unit of time)

Study limitations

Low response rate of schools invited to participate in study (30%). Schools committed to PE may be more likely to participate in study. Did not account for quality of PE. School level data used.

Sigfusdottir, Kristjanson et. al. 2006, (Sigfusdottir et al., 2006) Reykjavik University

Sample

All secondary schools in Iceland sent questionnaires for children aged 14 and 15 (9th and 10th grade). 6,346 students in total. 

Methods

Data obtained from 2000 Icelandic study, ‘Youth in Iceland’. Self-completed survey instrument.  

Measures

  • Self report of academic achievement
  • Self report of height, weight and PA levels.

Results

PA was a significant predictor of academic achievement when controlling for other variables. Body mass index, diet and PA explained up to 24% of the variance in academic achievement when controlling for gender, parental education, family structure and absenteeism. 

Association

+

Study limitations

Height and weight self report. Self report of PA levels. Data of individuals who did not enter a height or weight were not included possibly biasing results. Self report of average grades may not have reflected actual grades.

Hillman, Castelli  et. al. 2005, (Hillman, Castelli, & Buck, 2005) University of Illinois

Sample

51 children and adults. 24 children recruited from Champaign elementary school system.

Methods

Fitness tested using Fitnessgram. K-Bit Cognitive task and EEG administered. Matching of high and low fit participants to assist controlling for demographics.

Measures

  • Demographics 
  • Fitnessgram
  • EEG using 10-120 system
  • Cognitive task (visual oddball paradigm)
  • K-BIT to measure IQ.

Results

High-fit children had significantly faster reaction times  than low-fit children to target stimuli. 

Association

+

Study limitations

Other factors not measured could account for differences. Small sample size. Field test of fitness rather than more accurate objective measure.

Lidner, 2002, (Lidner KJ, 2002) The University of Hong Kong

Sample

Two randomly selected classes from randomly selected high schools in Hong Kong. 1,447 students aged 13-17 years.

Methods

Self-completed survey instrument.

Measures

  • Academic records collected from schools
  • Self report questionnaire.

Results

Significant positive link between academic performance and PA participation. Significant  positive relationship between PA participation and by band level of students (school grouping based on primary academic achievement).

Association

+

Study limitations

No objective measure of PA used. 

Dwyer, Sallis et al  2001, (Dwyer T et al., 2001) University of Tasmania

Sample

Randomly selected, nationally representative sample of 7,961 Australian Schoolchildren aged 7-15 years.

Methods

Data collected by 10 data collectors in each Australian state as part of the Australian Schools Health and Fitness Survey in 1985. Ratings of scholastic ability were given for each participant by school representative. 

Measures

  • Field tests of PA and fitness measures collected by trained data collectors
  • School ratings of scholastic ability 
  • Questionnaire: self perceived academic ability, involvement in exercise and sport.
     

Results

School ratings of scholastic ability were significantly associated with physical fitness, capacity and activity. There were also weak but consistent associations between scholastic ability and field tests of muscular force, endurance and power. Non-consistent results of cardio-respiratory endurance. 

Association

+

Study limitations

Disparity between two cardio-respiratory endurance results may be due to possible measurement bias or confounding. Field tests may have been influenced by motivation of students to perform.

Field, Diego et al  2001, (Field T et al., 2001)  University of Miami School of Medicine

Sample

89 high school students.

Methods

Self-completed questionnaire which included behavioural and exercise measures.

Measures

  • Exercise regularity per week
  • Sports involvement
  • Grade point average.

Results

Students reporting a high level of exercise spent significantly more time in sport and higher grade point averages. 

Association

+

Study limitations

All measures were self report. Small number of study participants. 

Tremblay, Inman and Willms, 2000, (Tremblay, Inman, & Willms, 2000) University of New Brunswick  

Sample

74.3% of total population of grade 6 students in New Brunswick Canada (n=6856).

Methods

Data from the Elementary School Climate Study used. Children completed of and study questionnaire and this was linked to standardised achievement test data collected by the education department. 

Measures

  • Maths and reading scores
  • BMI self report
  • SES
  • Study questionnaire, four questions on PA participation.

Results

No significant relationship between PA and maths and reading scores. 

Association

0

Study limitations

BMI and PA data self-report. 

Dexter 1999, (Dexter T, 1999) University of Cambridge 

Sample

517 candidates from sample of 17 schools taking the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE).

Methods

Review of records.

Measures

  • Academic ability calculated from Maths and English GCSE scores
  • GCSE PE score.

Results

Significant positive correlation between academic ability and sport performance.

Association

+

Study limitations

Sport performance measurement taken under test conditions may not reflect normal performance. 

Lidner 1999, (Lidner KJ, 1999) The University of Hong Kong

Sample

One or two randomly selected classes from randomly selected primary and high schools in Hong Kong. 4,690 children grades 5-12.

Methods

Age adapted self-completed survey instrument.

Measures

  • Sport participation survey instrument
  • Desired sport activities
  • Self perceived rating of academic performance
  • Self-perceived rating of sport and PA ability.

Results

Frequency and extent of sports participation significantly higher for student with high self-ratings of academic performance.

Association

+

Study limitations

Self-reported rating of academic performance used. Use of grouping students of primary school students based on academic scores to their secondary school may have affected their self-perceived academic success. 

Sillijer and Quirk 1997, (Silliker SA & Quirk JT, 1997) St Bonaventure University

Sample

123 high school students from five similar schools.

Methods

Counsellor identified students involved in soccer. Data collected on a data sheet by school counsellor in- season and out- of-season.

Measures

  • Grade point averages (GPA) for in and out of season.

Results

Participants had significantly higher GPA in-season than out-of-season. 

Association

+

Study limitations

Data collected only for soccer players. Small sample size. Schools not randomly selected. GPA may have been influenced by another seasonal factor. 

Dwyer, Blizzard et al 1996, (Dwyer T et al., 1996) The University of Tasmania

Sample

2,400 Australian randomly selected children from 9000 school children recruited into the ASHRS study from 109 schools.

Methods

Self administered questionnaire and field testing by trained personnel.

Measures

  • Skinfold thickness
  • Endurance fitness
  • Leisure activity 
  • Academic performance.

Results

PA and physical capacity were significantly positively related to scholastic rating. These associations remained after adjusting for relevant confounders.

Association

+

Study limitations

Motivation may have effected field testing results. 

Fisher, Juszczak et al  1996, (Fisher et al., 1996) North Shore University Hospital and Cornwell University Medical College

Sample

838 students in one school.

Methods

Self-completed questionnaires during gym class.

Measures

  • Sports questionnaire including number and type of sports and time spent in sport
  • Self report average grade.

Results

Time spent playing sport was not significantly associated with academic performance.

Association

0

Study limitations

All students were involved in at least one sport. Small sample. All measures self-report. Questionnaires distributed during gym class. Reliability and validity testing of sports questionnaire not reported. 

Pate, Heath et. Al 1996, (Pate, Heath, Dowda, & Trost, 1996) University of South Carolina

Sample

11,631 high school students.

Methods

Self-completed questionnaire.

Measures

  • Self perceived academic performance 
  • Level of exercise in last 2 weeks
  • Involvement in sports teams (community and school-based).

Results

High PA levels were significantly associated with participation in high levels of sport. Low activity was associated with low perception of academic performance.

Association

+

Study limitations

Measures were all self report. Perception of academic performance may not reflect actual academic performance.

Research reviews

Relationship between physical activity, sport or fitness and cognitive testing or academic test results in children.

Terms

  • GPA: grade point average 
  • PA: physical activity.

Ahn & Fedewa, 2011 (Ahn & Fedewa, 2011) University of Miami, USA

Studies included

73 published and unpublished studies, totalling 246 effect sizes.

Methods/presentation of literature

Based on a literature review, a systematic coding scheme was developed to identify salient features of each study.

Results/conclusions

Results demonstrated varying effects depending on the methodology of the examined study [i.e., correlational vs. randomised controlled trial (RCT)/non-RCT] and characteristics of the participants, although overall effects of physical activity on children’s mental health were small but significant, indicating that on average physical activity led to improved mental health outcomes for all children.

Associations

+

Review limitations

Slight publication bias existed for the current analysis, which might threaten the validity of research findings in the current meta-analysis.

Esteban-Cornejo, Tejero-Gonzalez, Sallis, & Veiga, 2014 (Esteban-Cornejo, Tejero-Gonzalez, Sallis, & Veiga, 2014) University of Madrid, Madrid, Spain

Studies included

20 articles.

Methods/presentation of literature

Percentages were used to number the links.

Results/conclusions

The findings of these studies show that cognitive performance is associated with vigorous physical activity and that academic performance is related to general physical activity, but mainly in girls.
Results of the review also indicate that type of activity and some psychological factors (i.e., self-esteem, depression) could mediate the association between physical activity and academic performance.

Associations

+

Review limitations

Studies were not ranked or weighted, and as a result, findings from studies with weaker designs and smaller sample sizes were given no less importance than findings from studies with more rigorous research designs and larger sample sizes.

Howie & Pate, 2012, (Howie & Pate, 2012) University of South Carolina, Columbia,

Studies included

A brief review of studies.

Methods/presentation of literature

A total of 125 published articles were included and reviewed. Fifty-three of these articles were published in the past five years.

Results/conclusions

In recent years, the overall quality of the studies has increased, but the results continue to be inconsistent. Many use cross-sectional designs and the methods vary substantially. The majority of conclusions show a positive effect of PA on constructs related to academic achievement. Future studies should use strong study designs to examine the types and doses of PA needed to produce improvements in academic achievement.

Associations

+

Review limitations

To increase the breadth, the review included a wide range of published studies on PA and academics with less rigorous exclusion criteria than previous reviews. Inclusion criteria did not limit multiple publications from a single study, thus studies with multiple publications may have biased the results. Only studies published in peer-reviewed journals were included, excluding dissertations.

Kibbe et al., 2011, (Kibbe et al., 2011) The George Washington University, USA

Studies included

Review of the literature.

Methods/presentation of literature

Relevant studies identified using three different databases.

Results/conclusions

Children participating in the TAKE 10! program experience higher PA levels, reduced time-off-task, and improved reading, math, spelling and composite scores.

Associations

+

Review limitations

Focused solely on TAKE 10!

Rasberry et al., 2011  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, USA

Studies included

Findings of the 50 studies were summarised.

Methods/presentation of literature

Relevant research was identified through a search of nine electronic databases using both physical activity and academic-related search terms.

Results/conclusions

Results suggest physical activity is either positively related to academic performance or that there is not a demonstrated relationship between physical activity and academic performance.

Associations

+

Review limitations

Studies were not ranked, weighted, or grouped according to their strengths and limitations.

Trudeau and Shephard 2008, (Trudeau & Shephard, 2008) Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières

Studies included

  • Quasi-experimental: seven studies 
  • Correlation: 10 studies

Methods/presentation of literature

Tabulation and summary of studies identified from MEDLINE, PSYCHINFO, SCHOLAR.GOOGLE.COM and ERIC databases.

Results/conclusions

Quasi experimental data show: allocation of up to one hour a day of academic time to PA programs does not affect academic performance, additional emphasis on PE may results in small gains in GPA, relative increase in performance per unit of academic teaching time. 

Correlation data show: positive association between PA and academic performance, fitness not related to academic performance, PA positive impact on concentration, memory and classroom behaviour.

Associations

+

Review limitations

Difficult to draw conclusions with small number of intervention studies. 

Fedewa, A. L., & Ahn (Fedewa & Ahn, 2011) Department of Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology at University of Kentucky

Studies included

59 studies from 1947 to 2009 for analysis.

Methods/presentation of literature

Comprehensive, quantitative synthesis of the literature.

Results/conclusions

Results indicated a significant and positive effect of physical activity on children’s achievement and cognitive outcomes, with aerobic exercise having the greatest effect. A number of moderator variables were also found to play a significant role in this relationship.

Findings are discussed in light of improving children’s academic performance and changing school-based policy.

Associations

+

Review limitations

Future research would advance the body of literature in this area tremendously by explicitly defining the studied population and presenting data that would allow for ES calculations.

Lees, C., & Hopkins, J. (2013) (Lees & Hopkins, 2013)

Studies included

Eight relevant randomised control trials that met inclusion criteria.

Methods/presentation of literature

A systematic review.

Results/conclusions

Aerobic physical activity is positively associated with cognition, academic achievement, behaviour, and psychosocial functioning outcomes.

Associations

+

Review limitations

This study did not include either unpublished research findings or non-English studies, which may have resulted in the loss of relevant research. Publication bias may also have resulted in relevant studies (especially those demonstrating an equivocal outcome) not being published. 

Taras 2005, (Taras H, 2005)  University of California

Studies included

14 articles examining the association between PA in school aged children and academic performance identified.

Methods/presentation of literature

Description of previous studies presented in table form and discussed.

Results/conclusions

Physical activity may have some short term benefits on concentration. 

Associations

+

Review limitations

Review did not identify all studies in the relevant area. 

Sibley and Etnier 2003, (Sibley & Etnier, 2003)  Arizona State University

Studies included

16 studies using true experimental design were included in the analysis, seven of these were unpublished. 

Methods/presentation of literature

Studies were coded by design, subject characteristics, activity characteristics and cognitive assessment.

Results/conclusions

Significant positive relationship between PA and cognitive functioning in children. Effect size 0.32 which indicates that the group exposed to PA showed an improvement in cognition equivalent to 0.5 of a standard deviation. Results support that participation in PA leads to improvements in cognitive function. 

Associations

+

Review limitations

Results of meta-analysis are limited by the designs of the studies in the area. Seven studies were unpublished so may have not met publication review rigour.  

Tomporowski 2003, (Tomporowski P.D., 2003) University of Georgia

Studies included

Review of four research studies on youth without clinical disorder and 18 with clinical disorders.

Methods/presentation of literature

Description of findings of studies performed to assess acute effects of exercise on children’s and adolescents’ behaviour and cognition.

Results/conclusions

Acute bouts of PA exert short-term positive benefits on the behavioural and cognitive functioning of youths. 

Associations

+

Review limitations

Review based on mainly studies on youths with clinical disorders and focuses on acute bouts of activity. 

Shephard, 1997, (Shephard, 1997)  University of Toronto

Studies included

Review of four intervention projects.

Methods/presentation of literature

Description of previous intervention studies: methods, results, conclusions and limitations. 

Results/conclusions

Academic learning per unit of class time is enhanced in physically active children. 

Associations

+ (improved learning per unit of time)

Review limitations

Review limited to only interpretation of findings from four studies.

Page reviewed 01 August 2019