Physical activity and school performance: A closer look

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Physical education may be disappearing from some schools, but a study finds that kids who engage in sports or physical activity may do better academically.

Researchers analyzed 14 studies (most from the U.S.) looking at the relationship between exercise and school performance. Of those, 10 were based on observation, four used interventions. The number of participants, aged 6 to 18, ranged from 53 to about 12,000.

The study was released Monday in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.


Although some of the studies were inconsistent in discovering a link between being more active and better academic performance, other papers did find evidence. One found that physical activity had a positive effect on language and reading skills.

In the collection of studies, the article’s authors found two they deemed high-quality, with both showing a strong correlation between exercise and better school performance.

However, the researchers noted that none of the studies measured the children’s activity objectively, and suggested that future research might make use of accelerometers to get a clearer idea of how much exercise kids are getting. The authors also mentioned that most of the studies measured activity via participation in school sports or PE classes, and those might not give a full picture of the various ways kids can be fit.

More studies, the authors added, are needed to show just how much activity is needed to boost academic performance and why exercise helps kids do better in school.

How does activity figure into academics? Current theories mentioned in the study say that exercise increases blood and oxygen to the brain and ups the levels of endorphins that can reduce stress and improve mood.