How sport and physical activity enhance children’s learning what the research is telling us.
Prepared by: Centre for Sport and Recreation Research, Curtin University, March 2015
This document is an updated version of:
KE, 2010 Brain Boost Sport and Physical Activity Enhance Children’s
Learning, The University of Western Australia, Department of Sport and
Update prepared by:
Smith J, Centre for Sport and Recreation Research, Curtin University, March 2015
Activities such as running, swimming, kicking a footy or playing netball can all help your kids do better at school.
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
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
Stephen Breen, President, Western Australian Primary Principals’ Association
Some of the main research findings are:
On top of that, the research also finds that:
How does exercise or being active do this?
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.
tells us that there’s a positive link between children being active and
playing sport and their ability to get better marks at school.
and physical activity participation are generally promoted for their
positive impacts on children’s physical and mental health.
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),
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
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).
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.,
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,
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.
research might be newer but the message is the same: the links between
physical activity and learning in children are positive and can be
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.
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).
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.
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).
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).
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,
Evidence also suggests that achieving a threshold amount of physical activity may be necessary to acquire learning benefits.
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:
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.
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:
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.)
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
(Carlson et al., 2008; Shachaf, Katz, & Shoval, 2013).
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.,
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
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
Superior learning therefore occurs with
greater physical activity participation, supporting the theory that
increasing physical activity has a positive impact on 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
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).
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
Figure 1: Move to
Learn, theoretical pathways linking physical activity, cognitive
functioning and academic success (Martin, 2010)
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:
As well as that, correlation studies and reviews of research have concluded:
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).
evidence indicates that regular physical activity is likely to provide
children with the optimum physiological condition for maximising
learning (Martin, 2010).
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.
indicates that despite national initiatives to increase children’s
physical activity, children are still not doing enough to meet the
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).
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.
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).
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,
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.
Relationship between physical activity, sport or fitness and cognitive testing or academic test results in children.
Intervention study group-randomised controlled trial.
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
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
than in control group. Overall, experimental
group 2 improved more than experimental group 1, without differences
between experimental group 1 and the control group.
The main limitation of this study was its small sample size and consequent small statistical power.
Intervention study, randomised control trial.
Thirty-four third-grade children and 53 ﬁfth-grade pre-adolescents.
Pre-adolescent participants were randomly assigned into either an acute exercise group or a control group.
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
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
A repeated-measures crossover design was used.
208 Latino school children. Year 1, Grade 4 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
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.
Dance Dance Revolution based exercise intervention improved children’s
cardiorespiratory endurance and math scores over time.
was not possible to investigate the potential confounding effect that
age and maturation and selection bias had on the outcome variables.
Longitudinal study design.
All pupils born 1990–1992.
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.
PE and adapted motor skills training during the compulsory school years
is a feasible way to improve not only motor skills but also school
Lack of separate baseline motor skills data for the intervention and the control group.
Randomised control trial.
221 children (7–9 years).
Randomly assigned to a 9-month after-school PA program or a wait-list control.
improved more among intervention participants from pre-test to
post-test compared with the wait-list control. The intervention enhanced
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
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.
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.
suggested that the intervention group beneﬁted from and welcomed the
additional daily physical activity when it offered high time-on-task,
and reﬂected students’ interests.
The intervention design with a dedicated physical activity leader and
professional development support
seemingly promoted teachers’
conﬁdence and enthusiasm.
Primary school students (n = 42, mean age = 9.69, SD = .44; experimental group (EG), n = 27; control group (CG), n = 15).
The students were randomly assigned to an experimental (EG) and a control group (CG).
results indicate that intensive physical activity only attenuates the
reactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis in
active preadolescents, but had a beneﬁcial effect on cognitive
performance for all participants independent of their
level and testosterone.
The size of the saliva sample time.
Points was relatively small (one pre-exercise, one post-exercise).
Intervention design, randomised control trial.
Two classes from a single school (n = 54).
were randomised to receive either the six-week EASY Minds intervention
(n = 27) or follow their usual school programme (n =
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
EASY Minds program demonstrated that integrating movement across the
primary mathematics syllabus is feasible and efﬁcacious in
based-PA and improving on-task behaviour in mathematics lessons.
The program was delivered by the researcher, a HPE trained specialist, with extensive experience in the primary classroom.
491 high school students in Grades 10, 11 and 12.
Participants divided into three comparison groups.
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
for male students. Female athletes who participated in competitive sport
attained a higher level of academic
numeracy and verbal reasoning than females who did not participate in
competitive sport. On the other hand, the
that male high school students who did not participate in competitive
sport attained a higher level of academic
numeracy and verbal reasoning than male athletes who participated in
+ for females– for males
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.
Randomised experimental design.
(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).
sampling was used to randomly assign students to the experimental
(exercise) or control (movie) condition. Participants in
condition (n=86; 45 female and 41 male) included 44 lower-income
participants and 42 higher-income participants.
condition (n= 78; 40 female and 38 male) was comprised of 36
lower-income participants and 42 higher-income participants.
Improved selective attention.
not measure/ address how long the selective attention beneﬁts from an
acute bout of exercise last for higher- and lower-income
Adolescent Health and Lifestyle Surveys (AHLS), collected biennially in
1981–89 (baseline) and representing 14- and 16-year-old
individually linked with national registries of the highest educational
level and SEP.
Multinomial logistic regression
analysis was used to study the associations between the outcomes
(highest attained educational level,
SEP) and PA (sports
clubs, spontaneous, intensity).
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.
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.
Elementary School students.
Structural equation modelling.
activity was significantly and positively related to both mathematics
and reading achievement in boys and girls. Physical
participation was not significantly related to achievement.
Socio-economic status accounted for approximately 26% of
activity. Future longitudinal research is discussed that incorporates
more comprehensive physical activity and achievement
Assessments did not consider the intensity or frequency of each child’s participation in physical education.
Three cohorts of students (n = 50.1% male) enrolled in a West Virginia public school system.
n =1,725 received baseline fitness and academic assessments as fifth graders and at a 2-year follow-up assessment.
FitnessGram to assess fitness in aerobic capacity and WESTEST, a criterion-based assessment, for academic performance.
aerobic capacity is associated with greater academic achievement as
defined by standardised test scores. This advantage
appears to be
maintained over time.
tests were administered by different physical education teachers who,
despite training and review, may have varied administration
Intervention involving four study schools and one control school.
This study analysed data from a sub-population incorporating children who qualified for free or subsidised lunches (n=1197).
intervention of dietary and physical activity intervention.
Standardised academic test scores examined at the end of each
adjusted for school clustering of behaviour and demographics.
Overall, children attending intervention schools had significantly higher maths scores in both study years.
Only one control school. As analysis only incorporated lower SES, results may have limited generalisability.
Intervention incorporating moderate treadmill walking.
20 pre-adolescents (mean age 9.5, SD 0.5yrs) from Illinois.
completed health and demographic questionnaire. Children visited
laboratory on two separate days (mean 10, SD 9 days apart)
resting session then 20 minute PA session (or order vice versa 50% of
children). Tests administered after either
rest or PA session.
better performance at reading comprehension after PA session compared
with rest. No effect for arithmetic or spelling.
improvement in response accuracy and larger P3 amplitude (cognitive
control) following PA session only.
+ (reading, cognitive control) 0 (arithmetic and spelling)
sample size. Testing order did not alter during the study and may have
affected results (reading, spelling, then arithmetic).
115 children attending an elite performance school in Berlin (mean age 15, SD 0.9 years).
with random assignment to coordinative exercise or sport lesson
intervention with pre- and post- concentration and attention
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.
results were significantly higher post-exercise intervention (both
coordinative and normal sports lesson). Interaction between
group by performance
ANOVA indicated that coordinative exercise led to significantly higher improvement in concentration and attention.
No inactive control group. D2-test learning may have occurred thus resulting in higher scores post-intervention.
Intervention where children were randomly assigned to low-dose, high-dose exercise program or control condition.
94 sedentary overweight children aged 7-11 years from Augusta, Georgia.
Standardised cognitive assessment test was administered before and after intervention.
Planning scores for high-dose group significantly greater than control. No difference between low-dose and control.
from overweight sedentary children only thus may have limited
generalisability. Children not blinded to their assignment group.
cluster randomised controlled trial. Intervention involving Action
School BC with pre- and post- academic performance testing.
Data from eight schools including 214 children from grades 4 and 5.
Half schools participated in higher PE each week and thus less academic activity. Control schools maintained usual activity.
children spent less time in academic activity in the higher PE schools,
this had no significant impact on standardised test
+ (improved learning per unit of time)
Children at the higher scoring schools may have been higher performers. School SES not assessed. PA self-report used.
Intervention study where children were randomly assigned to PE during first or second semester.
214 grade 6 children attending one Michigan Public School.
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
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.
+ (improved learning per unit of time)+ for vigorous activity
Only one school. No control group. SES not assessed.
Classroom-based intervention incorporating ‘Energizers’- 10 minutes’ classroom-based PA each day.
243 kindergarten through to Year 4 children in 15 classes at one school in North Carolina.
Pre- and post-test of observed on-task behaviour of 3rd and 4th grade students only.
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.
Pedometers only measured steps not PA intensity. Test performance may have been influenced by other factors (than PA).
Intervention study with two experimental groups and one control group.
Southern California single school district, seven schools.
Schools were randomly assigned to PE taught either by specialists, trained teacher or control (class teacher).
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
Sample from affluent school district. Measure of PE class time only (no measure sport or time or PA time).
546 primary school children from an urban and rural school.
group received one additional hour per day of PE, taught by a
specialist PE teacher. Controls received 13-14% more academic time
significant difference in academic achievement detected in first year
of study. However, the next year grades 2, 3, 5 and 6 study
significantly outperformed control group students in academic
achievement. Girls gained a larger academic advantage
than boys in the
enhanced physical education class.
+ (one year later)
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.
Intervention study with two experimental and one control group.
519 grade 5 (10-year-olds) from seven self-selected schools in Adelaide. Three classes were selected from each school.
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.
reduction in academic learning time for the fitness and skills groups
(210 mins per week, 14% of total teaching time) no significant
in arithmetic performance or reading
skills gains evident. At two-year follow-up, intervention schools had
an advantage in teacher ratings of classroom
Short period of observation.
Participants were students from a public middle school (grades 6–8) in central Illinois.
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.
First, this was a cross- sectional study, and causation cannot be established.
Participants were two classes of fourth-grade students in Ontario (n = 40).
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
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.
+ planning0 attention0 simultaneous processing0 successive processing
For all of the cognitive tests, test administration timing post-activity may have impacted the strength of results.
128 elite soccer players aged 12-16 years, and 164 aged-matched controls (typical students).
Elite youth aged matched with typical students.
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.
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?
400 talented athletes participated in this study.
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.
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).
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
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
Findings may inform the efforts to improve academic achievement and the general health status of youth.
Some of the measured relationships are quite weak, particularly those stemming from BMI and sedentary lifestyle.
Swedish 9th-grade students (n = 232; mean age = 16 years; 52% girls).
of pupils, within each school (n = 42), were randomly selected
proportional to the sizes of the respective
girls, academic achievement was associated with vigorous physical
activity and not mediated by fitness, whereas
in boys only fitness was associated with academic achievement.
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
Participants were 1,963 children in fourth to sixth grades.
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.
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.
These results are limited by methodological weaknesses, especially the use of cross-sectional data.
284 students (158 girls, 126 boys) with an average age of 14.7 years participated.
Self-completed survey instrument
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
not directly account for whether academic performance and physical
activity might be better explained with
31 middle and high schools in metropolitan Minnesota, n = 7746 children.
Students completed the EAT survey, demographic information, sport team participation and GPA questions.
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.
All data were self report.
1989 children in Years 5, 7 and 9 attending middle- to high-income South Carolina school district public schools.
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.
fitness significantly related to standardised test scores. BMI
significantly inversely related to standardised
to Fitnessgram as measure of aerobic fitness. Children’s efforts may
have impacted upon Fitnessgram
5,316 kindergarten children nationally representative sample from longitudinal study.
Teachers reported PE. Children were given maths and reading tests. Demographics collected from parents via telephone.
Girls who were enrolled in higher amounts of PE achieved higher maths and reading scores.
+ (girls)0 (boys)
Time spent in PE self report and no reliability or validity assessment of this measure.
259 3rd and 5th grade children at four public schools.
Children completed fitness testing and ISAT at school.
fitness positively associated with academic achievement. BMI inversely
related to academic achievement.
Associations noted for total academic and maths and reading
Methods used for measuring fitness have limitations. Sampling not random.
Convenience sample of 311 4th grade students attending two Massachusetts schools.
of test results at two schools: School 1 providing 28 hours and School 2
providing 56 hours of PE per
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.
+ (English and language arts)0 (maths)
Convenience sample of children tested.
While many school demographics measured, other school characteristics may have influences results.
117 South Australian Primary Schools.
(or representative) completed questionnaire. Academic attainment data
received from the education department.
School averages for numeracy and literacy calculated.
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.
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
secondary schools in Iceland sent questionnaires for children aged 14
and 15 (9th and 10th grade). 6,346 students
Data obtained from 2000 Icelandic study, ‘Youth in Iceland’. Self-completed survey instrument.
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.
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.
51 children and adults. 24 children recruited from Champaign elementary school system.
tested using Fitnessgram. K-Bit Cognitive task and EEG administered.
Matching of high and low fit participants
to assist controlling for demographics.
High-fit children had significantly faster reaction times than low-fit children to target stimuli.
factors not measured could account for differences. Small sample size.
Field test of fitness rather than
more accurate objective measure.
Two randomly selected classes from randomly selected high schools in Hong Kong. 1,447 students aged 13-17 years.
Self-completed survey instrument.
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).
No objective measure of PA used.
Randomly selected, nationally representative sample of 7,961 Australian Schoolchildren aged 7-15 years.
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.
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
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
89 high school students.
Self-completed questionnaire which included behavioural and exercise measures.
Students reporting a high level of exercise spent significantly more time in sport and higher grade point averages.
All measures were self report. Small number of study participants.
74.3% of total population of grade 6 students in New Brunswick Canada (n=6856).
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
No significant relationship between PA and maths and reading scores.
BMI and PA data self-report.
517 candidates from sample of 17 schools taking the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE).
Review of records.
Significant positive correlation between academic ability and sport performance.
Sport performance measurement taken under test conditions may not reflect normal performance.
or two randomly selected classes from randomly selected primary and
high schools in Hong Kong. 4,690 children
Age adapted self-completed survey instrument.
and extent of sports participation significantly higher for student
with high self-ratings of academic
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.
123 high school students from five similar schools.
identified students involved in soccer. Data collected on a data sheet
by school counsellor in- season
and out- of-season.
Participants had significantly higher GPA in-season than out-of-season.
collected only for soccer players. Small sample size. Schools not
randomly selected. GPA may have been influenced
by another seasonal factor.
2,400 Australian randomly selected children from 9000 school children recruited into the ASHRS study from 109 schools.
Self administered questionnaire and field testing by trained personnel.
and physical capacity were significantly positively related to
scholastic rating. These associations remained
after adjusting for relevant confounders.
Motivation may have effected field testing results.
838 students in one school.
Self-completed questionnaires during gym class.
Time spent playing sport was not significantly associated with academic performance.
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.
11,631 high school students.
PA levels were significantly associated with participation in high
levels of sport. Low activity was associated
with low perception of academic performance.
Measures were all self report. Perception of academic performance may not reflect actual academic performance.
between physical activity, sport or fitness and cognitive testing or
academic test results in
73 published and unpublished studies, totalling 246 effect sizes.
on a literature review, a systematic coding scheme was developed to
features of each study.
demonstrated varying effects depending on the methodology of the
[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
publication bias existed for the current analysis, which might threaten
of research findings in the current
Percentages were used to number the links.
ﬁndings of these studies show that cognitive performance is associated
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
were not ranked or weighted, and as a result, ﬁndings from studies with
designs and smaller sample sizes were given no
less importance than ﬁndings from studies
with more rigorous research designs and larger
A brief review of studies.
total of 125 published articles were included and reviewed. Fifty-three
of these articles
were published in the past five years.
recent years, the overall quality of the studies has increased, but the
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
increase the breadth, the review included a wide range of published
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.
Review of the literature.
Relevant studies identified using three different databases.
participating in the TAKE 10! program experience higher PA levels,
and improved reading, math, spelling and
Focused solely on TAKE 10!
Findings of the 50 studies were summarised.
research was identiﬁed through a search of nine electronic databases
physical activity and academic-related search
Results suggest physical
activity is either positively related to academic performance
or that there is not a demonstrated relationship
between physical activity and academic
Studies were not ranked, weighted, or grouped according to their strengths and limitations.
and summary of studies identified from MEDLINE, PSYCHINFO,
and ERIC databases.
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
Correlation data show: positive association
between PA and academic performance, fitness
not related to academic performance, PA positive
impact on concentration, memory and
Difficult to draw conclusions with small number of intervention studies.
59 studies from 1947 to 2009 for analysis.
Comprehensive, quantitative synthesis of the literature.
indicated a significant and positive effect of physical activity on
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
Findings are discussed in light of improving
children’s academic performance and
changing school-based policy.
research would advance the body of literature in this area tremendously
defining the studied population and presenting
data that would allow for ES calculations.
Eight relevant randomised control trials that met inclusion criteria.
A systematic review.
physical activity is positively associated with cognition, academic
behaviour, and psychosocial functioning
study did not include either unpublished research findings or
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.
articles examining the association between PA in school aged children
and academic performance
Description of previous studies presented in table form and discussed.
Physical activity may have some short term benefits on concentration.
Review did not identify all studies in the relevant area.
studies using true experimental design were included in the analysis,
seven of these
were coded by design, subject characteristics, activity characteristics
positive relationship between PA and cognitive functioning in children.
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.
of meta-analysis are limited by the designs of the studies in the area.
were unpublished so may have not met publication
of four research studies on youth without clinical disorder and 18 with
of findings of studies performed to assess acute effects of exercise on
and adolescents’ behaviour and cognition.
bouts of PA exert short-term positive benefits on the behavioural and
based on mainly studies on youths with clinical disorders and focuses
on acute bouts
Review of four intervention projects.
Description of previous intervention studies: methods, results, conclusions and limitations.
Academic learning per unit of class time is enhanced in physically active children.
+ (improved learning per unit of time)
Review limited to only interpretation of findings from four studies.
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