Dr Karen Martin, School of Population Health, The University of Western Australia May 2010.
Sport and physical activity
participation are generally promoted for their positive impact on
children’s physical and mental health.1 However, increased
participation in sport and other forms of physical activity are also
thought to lead to enhancement of cognitive functioning (information
processing), memory, concentration, behaviour and academic achievement
for children. The link between physical activity and academic
achievement is of increasing interest in the field of education and
Unfortunately, with increasing pressure on schools to
ensure children achieve academic success, and the new practise of
publicised average grade comparison between schools, physical activity
classes (such as physical education and sport) are increasingly being
pushed down the curriculum priority list. Of concern, it appears that
time spent in physical activity during the school day is diminishing;2-4 at
some schools the average moderate to vigorous physical activity during
the class has been reported as being less than 10 minutes daily.
Removing or reducing physical activity classes from the school day may
be detrimental to children’s physical and mental health as research
indicates that school day physical activity is associated with total
daily physical activity.5-7
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.8, 9 Evidence also suggests that achieving a threshold amount of physical activity may be necessary to acquire learning benefits,10 and that participation in vigorous physical activity may further enhance learning.11 Further
to this, there is evidence that there has been a reduction over the
years in children’s participation in physical activity and organised
community sport, and this is particularly evident in Australia.12
we reported the research evidence related to the relationship between
physical activity or sport and learning or academic success.13
This report provides an update of evidence reported from Australian and
international research published in peer-reviewed journals; providing
summaries of intervention research, correlational studies and research
- Strong WB, Malina RM, Blimkie
CJR, et al. Evidence based physical activity for school-age youth.
Journal of Pediatrics. 2005;146(6):732-737.
- Salmon J, Timperio
A, Cleland V, Venn A. Trends in children’s physical activity and weight
status in high and low socio-economic status areas of Melbourne,
Victoria, 1985-2001. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public
- Hardman K, Marshall J. The state
and status of physical education in schools in international context.
European Physical Education Reviews. 2000;6(3):203-229.
R, Wechsler H, Kann L, Collins J. Recent trends in participation in
physical education among US high school students. Journal of School
- Myers LL, Strikmiller PPK, Webber
LLS, Berenson GGS. Physical and sedentary activity in school children
grades 5-8: The Bogalusa Heart Study. Med Sci Sports Exerc.
- Dale D, Corbin CB, Dale S. Restricting
opportunities to be active during school time: Do children compensate by
increasing physical activity levels after school? Research Quarterly
for Exercise and Sport. 2000;71(3):240-248.
- Sallis JF, McKenzie
TL, Conway TL, et al. Environmental interventions for eating and
physical activity: a randomized controlled trial in middle schools.
American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2003/4 2003;24(3):209-217.
D, Messiah SE, Lopez-Mitnik G, Hollar TL, Almon M, Agatston AS. Effect
of a two-year obesity prevention intervention on percentile changes in
body mass index and academic performance in low-income elementary school
children. American Journal of Public Health. 2010;100(4):646.
RJ, Lavallee H, Volle M, La Barre R, C B. Academic skills and required
physical education: The Trois Rivieres Experience. Canadian Association
for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation Research Supplements.
- Davis CL, Tomporowski PD, Boyle CA, et al.
Effects of aerobic exercise on overweight children’s cognitive
functioning: A randomized controlled trial. Research Quarterly for
Exercise and Sport. 2007;78(5):510.
- Coe DP, Pivarnik JM, Womack
CJ, Reeves MJ, Malina RM. Effect of physical education and activity
levels on academic achievement in children. Medicine and Science in
Sports and Exercise. 2006;38(8):1515.
- Dollman J, Norton K,
Norton L. Evidence for secular trends in children’s physical activity
behaviour. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2005;39(12):892.
K. Improved learning through physical activity. 2006; available online:
http://www.dsr.wa.gov.au/index.php?id=471: Department of Education and
Training (Government of Western Australia).
Active kids are smarter
Research proves that if your kid is physically active they do better at school.
Physical activity enhances cognitive function improving memory, behaviour, concentration and academic achievement.
On the other hand inactivity negatively impacts brain health and executive control including:
- maintaining focus
- working memory
Did you know?
research shows replacing academic lessons with physical activity does
not have a detrimental impact on school grades – in fact some research
shows increased participation in physical activity leads to better
- Most university-based, internationally-published
research in this field has found a positive link between children’s
physical activity participation and academic achievement.
- Short amounts of exercise benefits executive functions.
- More intense physical activity out of school resulted in higher test scores and improved reading comprehension.
- Physical activity intervention led to significant improvements in children’s maths scores.
- Students who exercised more, participated in sport and achieved higher grade point averages.
Why is this?
- Exercise can increase levels of a brain growth factor.
- Exercise can stimulate nerve growth.
- Regular physical activity may reduce plasma noradrenaline (a vasoconstrictor which reduces blood flow to the brain).
- Exercise increases blood flow to the cortex of the brain.
- Physical activity improves children’s concentration, attention and reasoning ability.
- Physical activity leads to improvement in cognitive control.
In other words – if you exercise, your brain is fitter and works better. It’s pretty simple!
Who says this?
- Journal of Paediatrics
- Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health
- Journal of School Health
- Journal of Paediatric Psychology
- Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport
- American Journal of Preventive Medicine
- American Journal of Public Health
- Canadian Association for Health
- Physical Education and Recreation Research Supplement
- Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports
- British Journal of Sports Medicine
- Journal of Sports Behaviour
- European Journal of Preventative Medicine
- European Journal of Public Health
- Journal of Adolescent Health
- Journal of Developmental and Behavioural Paediatrics
- American Journal of Health Behaviour
- International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity
- Journal of Neurology.