Academic Performance and Attendance
There is a growing body of evidence showing a positive relationship between physical activity and measures of academic achievement, including grade point average (Kontomaa et al, 2013), rate of learning (Hillman et al., 2009), and classroom behavior (Davis and Cooper, 2011), as well as cognitive, social, and motor skill development (Active Living Research, 2015).
Physical activity has demonstrated both short-term improvements to attention and memory, as well as long-term benefits for brain health (Active Living Research, 2015). Furthermore, physical inactivity has been connected to lower cognitive ability and academic achievement (Davis and Cooper, 2011). Research also suggests that overweight and obesity may be connected with lower academic performance (Kamijo et al., 2012) and greater risk for school absenteeism (Geier et al., 2007). More study is needed to explain the causal relationships between fitness, physical activity, and academics, but the connections are evident.
Because children spend up to seven hours a day at school, this setting is key for shaping opportunities for physical activity and promoting health. In 2013, the National Institutes of Medicine (IOM) acknowledged that physical education alone will not achieve recommended amounts of daily physical activity among children. Furthermore, IOM supported active transport to school as an opportunity to encourage physical activity through a “whole of school” approach (National Research Council, 2013). Thus, Safe Routes to School programs are an important complement to physical education and active learning during the school day to help students achieve national guidelines of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily for children. Fewer than 10% of school districts nationwide include language promoting Safe Routes to School in their wellness policies (National Research Council, 2013). Understanding the relationship between physical activity, body weight, and academic achievement can help provide schools and organizations with evidence to support academic and physical activity programming that promotes both academic and physical fitness. Articles in this section explore the relationship between physical activity, body weight, and academic performance.
Infographic: Active Living Research
- Aerobic fitness has been connected with better standardized test performance (Roberts, Freed, and McCarthy, 2010).
- Cardiorespiratory fitness and weight status have been independently connected with academic achievement, cognition, and behavior (Sardinha et al., 2014; Davis and Cooper, 2011).
- Children with a high level of fitness performed better on a test of memory than children with low levels of fitness (Raine et al., 2013).
- Higher body mass has been associated with lower academic achievement (Kamijo et al., 2013).
- In one study of middle schoolers, students who were not overweight had 25% fewer absences and 39% lower tardiness compared with students who were overweight (Shore et al., 2008).
- After adding physical activity to school curriculum, students performed 6% better on standardized tests than peers learning the same material in seated, inactive sessions (Donnelly and Lambourne, 2011).
- After 20 minutes of walking, students completed learning tasks more quickly and accurately and performed better on tests of reading comprehension (Hillman et al., 2009).
- An experimental study showed that students with intellectual and developmental disabilities had improved reaction time and brain activity following short bouts of cycling (Vogt et al., 2013).
- One study connected active commuting with higher cognitive performance on verbal, reasoning, and numerical tests among adolescent girls (Martinez-Gomez, 2011).
- Physical inactivity is more prevalent among lower-income youth and youth of color, which may negatively affect academic achievement, and active transportation can be an important strategy for increasing physical activity in this population (Basch, 2011).
Academic Research Articles and Findings:
- Schools can promote daily physical activity, which has benefits for health and academic success.
- In a cross-sectional study of fifth-grade students, those who walked to school every day had 24 more minutes of daily physical activity on average.
- Students who participate in 20 minutes of recess or more have a lower BMI than those who get less recess time.
- Teens who were active in school were 20% more likely to earn an A in math or English.
- This infographic published by Active Living Research summarizes research findings from several studies of school-related physical activity.
- Physical activity is a win-win for students and teachers.
- After 20 minutes of walking, children showed more mental activity in a brain scan.
- After 20 minutes of physical activity, students tested better in reading, spelling, and math and were more likely to read above their grade level.
- After being in a physically active afterschool program for 9 months, students’ memory tasks improved 16%.
- This infographic summarizes the research from the research brief “Active Education: Growing Evidence on Physical Activity and Academic Performance” published in January 2015.
Tags: children, children of color, disparity, academic performance, urban, Safe Routes to School, fitness, cognition.
There are disparities in physical activity and academic achievement among urban minority school-aged children, and improving physical activity and fitness in schools, especially through active transportation to school, could be a strategy for improving academic achievement among this group.
- School-based physical education programs have been shown to improve physical activity and fitness.
- Physical activity and fitness have a positive effect on the brain and cognition which could improve learning.
- Therefore, increasing opportunities for physical activity in schools could improve academic achievement among youth who are less active, including minority youth.
- Active transportation to school may be a good way to increase physical activity among low-income, minority youth.
- This study is a literature review of connections between physical activity and academic achievement and approaches for increasing physical activity and fitness through school environments, with a particular focus among urban minority youth populations.
Tags: academic performance, children, school, lessons, BMI
This study demonstrated improved academic performance following implementation of physically active academic lessons.
- Academic achievement improved by 6% among elementary school students participating in physically active academic lessons compared to a 1% decrease in performance for children who received lessons while seated and inactive.
- BMI increased less over the three-year study among children with more than 75 minutes of physically active academic lessons each week (1.8 BMI) compared with students with less exposure (2.4 BMI).
- This study conducted a longitudinal study over three years in 24 elementary schools using the Physical Activity Across the Curriculum (PAAC).
Donnelly JE, Lambourne K. (2011). Classroom-based physical activity, cognition, and academic achievement. Preventive Medicine, 52 (Suppl 1):S36-S42.
This review of the literature examined the history of research on physical activity, physical fitness, and academic performance and found a growing body of evidence for connections between these factors.
- Research in the 1980s was focused on sport participation and academic performance, and in the 1990s researchers investigated the effects of specific interventions on health, with academic performance as a secondary outcome. Research in the 2000s shifted focus from adolescence to early childhood and examined health benefits from physical activity and began to look at physical activity’s impact on brain function and cognitive skills.
- Recent studies (2010-2012) have demonstrated larger effects on academic performance from physical activity programs.
- Researchers recommend further research on dose-response relationships between physical activity and academic performance, examination of other variables like socioeconomic status, gender, age, home environment, and nutritional habits, and study both in schools and rigorous laboratory studies.
- The research suggests “bringing neuroscience to schools” by translating research into findings and specific recommendations that are applicable in the school setting.
- This article conducts a systematic review and meta-analysis of literature on physical activity, physical fitness, and academic performance among 4-8 year-olds with a priority on examining interventions and randomized control trials.
- The study reported results from the literature by three time periods: before 2000, between 2000 and 2009, and after 2010.
Castelli, D. M., Centeio, E. E., Hwang, J., Barcelona, J. M., Glowacki, E. M., Calvert, H. G. and Nicksic, H. M. (2014). VII. The History of Physical Activity and Academic Performance Research: Informing The Future. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 79: 119–148. doi: 10.1111/mono.12133.
Higher BMI and fat mass were connected with lower academic achievement scores.
- Children with higher BMI demonstrated lower performance on tasks requiring more cognitive control and restraint, but there was no association between BMI and performance with tasks requiring less cognitive control, so the relationship between weight status and cognition may vary.
- Higher BMI was associated with lower academic achievement scores, even after controlling for IQ.
- In this study, 126 children ages 7-9 completed tasks related to cognitive control and attention and a test of reading, spelling, and arithmetic. Weight status and body composition was measured through BMI and fat mass.
Kamijo K, Khan N, Pontifex M, et al. The relation of adiposity to cognitive control and scholastic achievement in preadolescent children. Obesity. 2012;20(12):2406-2411. doi:10.1038/oby.2012.112.
Regular participation in physical activity and higher levels of physical fitness have been linked to improved academic performance and brain function, including attention and memory.
- Single sessions of physical activity can enhance attention and memory.
- One study found that after walking on a treadmill for 20 minutes, children responded to test questions with greater accuracy and had more brain activity than children who had been sitting. Children also completed learning tasks faster and more accurately following physical activity.
- Physically fit children have larger hippocampal volume and basal ganglia, brain components both connected with learning.
- This research brief reviewed scientific articles on connections between physical activity and fitness and academic performance and the effects of physical activity on the developing brain.
Castelli, D.M., Glowacki, E., Barcelona, J.M., Calvert, H.G., & Hwang, J. (2015). Active Education: Growing Evidence on Physical Activity and Academic Performance. [Research brief.] Active Living Research. http://activelivingresearch.org/sites/default/files/ALR_Brief_ActiveEducation_Jan2015.pdf
- BACKGROUND: Evidence suggests that lifestyle interventions can benefit cognitive function and school achievement in children of normal weight. Similar beneficial effects may be seen in overweight or obese children and adolescents.
- OBJECTIVES: To determine whether lifestyle interventions (in the areas of diet, physical activity, sedentary behaviour and behavioural therapy) improve school achievement, cognitive function and future success in overweight or obese children and adolescents compared with standard care, waiting list control, no treatment or attention control.
- SEARCH METHODS: We searched a number of databases to identify randomised and controlled clinical trials of lifestyle interventions for weight management in overweight or obese children three to 18 years of age.
- MAIN RESULTS: We included in the review six studies (14 articles) of 674 overweight and obese children and adolescents, comprising four studies with multicomponent lifestyle interventions and two studies with physical activity only interventions. Single component physical activity interventions produced small improvements in mathematics achievement. No evidence suggested an effect of any lifestyle intervention on reading, vocabulary and language achievements, attention, inhibitory control and simultaneous processing. Pooling of data in meta-analyses was restricted by variations in study design. No study provided evidence of the effect of lifestyle interventions on future success. Whether changes in academic and cognitive abilities were connected to changes in body weight status was unclear because of conflicting findings and variations in study design.
- AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Despite the large number of childhood obesity treatment trials, evidence regarding their impact on school achievement and cognitive abilities is lacking. Existing studies have a range of methodological issues affecting the quality of evidence. Multicomponent interventions targeting physical activity and healthy diet could benefit general school achievement, whereas a physical activity intervention delivered for childhood weight management could benefit mathematics achievement, executive function and working memory. Although the effects are small, a very large number of children and adolescents could benefit from these interventions. Therefore health policy makers may wish to consider these potential additional benefits when promoting physical activity and healthy eating in schools. Future obesity treatment trials are needed to examine overweight or obese children and adolescents and to report academic and cognitive as well as physical outcomes.
Martin A, Saunders DH, Shenkin SD, Sproule J. Lifestyle intervention for improving school achievement in overweight or obese children and adolescents. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2014;14(3):CD009728
- We review literature that examines the association among physical activity, aerobic fitness, cognition, and the brain in elementary school children (ages 7-10 years).
- Specifically, physical activity and higher levels of aerobic fitness in children have been found to benefit brain structure, brain function, cognition, and school achievement. For example, higher fit children have larger brain volumes in the basal ganglia and hippocampus, which relate to superior performance on tasks of cognitive control and memory, respectively, when compared to their lower fit peers. Higher fit children also show superior brain function during tasks of cognitive control, better scores on tests of academic achievement, and higher performance on a real-world street crossing task, compared to lower fit and less active children.
- The cross-sectional findings are strengthened by a few randomized, controlled trials, which demonstrate that children randomly assigned to a physical activity intervention group show greater brain and cognitive benefits compared to a control group.
- Because these findings suggest that the developing brain is plastic and sensitive to lifestyle factors, we also discuss typical structural and functional brain maturation in children to provide context in which to interpret the effects of physical activity and aerobic fitness on the developing brain.
- This research is important because children are becoming increasingly sedentary, physically inactive, and unfit. An important goal of this review is to emphasize the importance of physical activity and aerobic fitness for the cognitive and brain health of today's youth.
Chaddock-Heyman L, Hillman CH, Cohen NJ, Kramer AF. The importance of physical activity and aerobic fitness for cognitive control and memory in children. In: Monogr Soc Res Child Dev; 2014. p. 25-50.
- Background: Physical inactivity has been shown to increase the risk for several chronic diseases across the lifespan. However, the impact of physical activity and aerobic fitness on childhood cognitive and brain health has only recently gained attention.
- Purpose: The purposes of this article are to:
- Highlight the recent emphasis for increasing physical activity and aerobic fitness in children's lives for cognitive and brain health;
- Present aspects of brain development and cognitive function that are susceptible to physical activity intervention;
- Review neuroimaging studies examining the cross-sectional and experimental relationships between aerobic fitness and executive control function
- Make recommendations for future research.
- Given that the human brain is not fully developed until the third decade of life, preadolescence is characterized by changes in brain structure and function underlying aspects of cognition including executive control and relational memory.
- Conclusion: Achieving adequate physical activity and maintaining aerobic fitness in childhood may be a critical guideline to follow for physical as well as cognitive and brain health.
Khan NA Hillman C. The relation of childhood physical activity and aerobic fitness to brain function and cognition: a review. Pediatr Exerc Sci 2014;26(2)(May):138-46.
- In this study, associations between objectively measured active commuting to school and cognitive performance and academic achievement in Dutch adolescents were investigated.
- Active commuting to school was found to be positively associated with executive functioning in adolescent girls.
Van Dijk ML, De Groot, R. H. M., Van Acker, F., Savelberg, H. H. C. M., & , Kirschner PA. Physical Activity Before School, Cognitive Performance, and Academic Achievement in Dutch Adolescents: Let them Walk or Cycle to School! In: events AiCFPaca, editor. ISBNPA conference 2014. San Diego, California, USA.; 2014.
- Objectives: The purpose of this report is to perform a systematic review of the evidence on the associations between physical activity and cognition by differentiating between academic and cognitive performance measures. Second-generation questions regarding potential mediators or moderators (i.e., sex, age and psychological variables) of this relationship were also examined.
- Methods: Studies were identified from searches in PubMed, Sportdiscus and ERIC databases from 2000 through 2013. The search process was carried out by two independent researchers.
- Results: A total of 20 articles met the inclusion criteria, 2 of them analyzed both cognitive and academic performance in relation to physical activity. Four articles (18%) found no association between physical activity and academic performance, 11 (50%) found positive association and one showed negative association (5%). Five articles (23%) found positive association between physical activity and cognitive performance and one showed negative association (5%). 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.
- Conclusions: Results of the review support that physical activity is associated with cognition, but more research is needed to clarify the role of sex, intensity and type of physical activity and some psychological variables of this association.
Esteban-Cornejo I, Tejero-Gonzalez CM, Sallis JF, Veiga OL. Physical activity and cognition in adolescents: A systematic review. J Sci Med Sport 2014.
- Background: The association of physical fitness with cognitive function in children and adolescents is unclear. The purpose of this ecological study was to describe the association between academic achievement, body mass index (BMI), and cardiovascular fitness (CVF) in a large sample of elementary, middle, and high school students in Texas.
- Methods: FITNESSGRAM((R)) results for 2,550,144 students were matched with standardized composite academic test (TAKS) results from 2008 to 2009. Analyses were conducted on the percent of students meeting TAKS standards by BMI and CVF quintiles. Analyses of variance with Tukey adjustment examined differences between the most favorable 5th quintile (referent) and all other quintiles.
- Results: The prevalence of students meeting the TAKS standard was significantly higher in the highest fitness category for BMI and CVF compared to all other categories, regardless of sex or grade category (p < .05). Linear modeling suggested a 5% increase in the prevalence of students meeting healthy BMI and CVF standards would result in a 2.25% and 0.65% increase in the prevalence of students meeting the TAKS standard (both p < .05).
- Conclusion: Findings suggest a healthy BMI and CVF are associated with higher academic achievement, and the need for additional research examining the role of potential confounders and/or effect modifiers longitudinally.
Janak, J. C., Gabriel, K. P., Oluyomi, A. O., Perez, A., Kohl, H. W., & Kelder, S. H. (2014). The association between physical fitness and academic achievement in Texas state house legislative districts: an ecologic study. J Sch Health, 84(8), 533-542. doi: 10.1111/josh.12176
- Background: There is a need for feasible and research-based interventions that target the cognitive performance and academic achievement of low-income adolescents.
- Methods: In response, this study utilized a randomized experimental design and assessed the selective visual attention (SVA) and reading comprehension abilities of low-income adolescents and, for comparison purposes, high-income adolescents after they engaged in 12-min of aerobic exercise.
- Results: The results suggest that 12-min of aerobic exercise improved the SVA of low- and high-income adolescents and that the benefit lasted for 45-min for both groups. The SVA improvement among the low-income adolescents was particularly large. In fact, the SVA improvement among the low-income adolescents was substantial enough to eliminate a pre-existing income gap in SVA. The mean reading comprehension score of low-income adolescents who engaged in 12-min of aerobic exercise was higher than the mean reading comprehension score of low-income adolescents in the control group. However, there was no difference between the mean reading comprehension scores of the high-income adolescents who did and did not engage in 12-min of aerobic exercise.
- Conclusions: Based on the results, schools serving low-income adolescents should consider implementing brief sessions of aerobic exercise during the school day.
Tine, M. (2014). Acute aerobic exercise: an intervention for the selective visual attention and reading comprehension of low-income adolescents. Front Psychol, 5, 575. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00575
- Background: In addition to the benefits on physical and mental health, cardiorespiratory fitness has shown to have positive effects on cognition. This study aimed to investigate the relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and body weight status on academic performance among seventh-grade students.
- Methods: Participants included 1531 grade 7 students (787 male, 744 female), ranging in age from 12 to 14 years (Mage = 12.3 +/- 0.60), from 3 different cohorts. Academic performance was measured using the marks students had, at the end of their academic year, in mathematics, language (Portuguese), foreign language (English), and sciences. To assess cardiorespiratory fitness the Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Endurance Run, from Fitnessgram, was used as the test battery. The relationship between academic achievement and the independent and combined association of cardiorespiratory fitness/weight status was analyzed, using multinomial logistic regression.
- Results: Cardiorespiratory fitness and weight status were independently related with academic achievement. Fit students, compared with unfit students had significantly higher odds for having high academic achievement (OR = 2.29, 95% CI: 1.48-3.55, p < 0.001). Likewise, having a normal weight status was also related with high academic achievement (OR = 3.65, 95% CI: 1.82-7.34, p < 0.001).
- Conclusions: Cardiorespiratory fitness and weight status were independently and combined related to academic achievement in seventh-grade students independent of the different cohorts, providing further support that aerobically fit and normal weight students are more likely to have better performance at school regardless of the year that they were born.
Sardinha, L. B., Marques, A., Martins, S., Palmeira, A., & Minderico, C. (2014). Fitness, fatness, and academic performance in seventh-grade elementary school students. BMC Pediatr, 14(1),
- The study examined the effects of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise on aspects of cognitive control in two groups of children categorized by higher- and lower-task performance.
- Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were collected in 40 preadolescent children during a modified flanker task following 20 min of treadmill walking and seated rest on separate occasions. Participants were bifurcated into two groups based on task performance following the resting session.
- Findings revealed that following exercise, higher-performers maintained accuracy and exhibited no change in P3 amplitude compared to seated rest. Lower-performers demonstrated a differential effect, such that accuracy measures improved, and P3 amplitude increased following exercise. Lastly, both groups displayed smaller N2 amplitude and shorter P3 latency following exercise, suggesting an overall facilitation in response conflict and the speed of stimulus classification.
- The current findings replicate prior research reporting the beneficial influence of acute aerobic exercise on cognitive performance in children. However, children with lower inhibitory control capacity may benefit the most from single bouts of exercise. These data are among the first to demonstrate the differential effect of physical activity on individuals who vary in inhibitory control, and further support the role of aerobic exercise for brain health during development.
Drollette, E. S., Scudder, M. R., Raine, L. B., Moore, R. D., Saliba, B. J., Pontifex, M. B., & Hillman, C. H. (2014). Acute exercise facilitates brain function and cognition in children who need it most: an ERP study of individual differences in inhibitory control capacity. Dev Cogn Neurosci, 7, 53-64. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2013.11.001
- BACKGROUND: Implementing physical activity (PA) within academic curricula increases energy expenditure and enhances academic achievement in elementary students. The purposes of the study were to determine the extent teachers met the 20-minute PA policy, identify how teachers met the policy, and measure the level of intensity of PA provided.
- METHODS: Four elementary schools (grades K-5; 68 classroom teachers) implemented a district-mandated 20-minute PA policy. Teachers recorded PA for 1 week in September 2010 and February 2011. A sample of 142 students (grades K-5) wore accelerometers to measure school day PA.
- RESULTS: While 40% and 4% of teachers in September and February respectively met the policy all 5 days, 72.5% and 45.7% of teachers in September and February respectively implemented PA at least 3 days/week. Accelerometry results indicated curriculum-based lessons (CBL; 59.92 ± 20.38 min) or walk/run periods (51.56 ± 18.67 min) significantly increased school day MVPA (P < .05) above no additional activity (30.96 ± 22.57 min).
- CONCLUSIONS: Although the teachers did not meet the 20-minute policy every day, the increased amount of PA achieved each week through the teachers' efforts is a significant contributor to total daily PA levels of children.
Holt E, Bartee T, Heelan K. (2013). Evaluation of a policy to integrate physical activity into the school day. J Phys Act Health, 10(4), 480-487.
- BACKGROUND: We examined the association between the allocation of time to regular physical activity (PA) and achievement in mathematics and language in Chilean adolescents after controlling for confounders.
- METHODS: In a random sample of 620 ninth graders (15.6 ± 0.7 years old), we measured regular PA, including physical education and sports extracurricular activities, and academic performance, using national standardised tests. Bivariate and multivariate regression analyses modelled the relation between academic and health-related behaviours. Sufficiency and proficiency in mathematics and language were used as outcome variables.
- RESULTS: Only 18% of adolescents had >4 h·week-1 of regular PA. Devoting >4 h · week-1 to regular PA significantly increased the odds of sufficiency and proficiency in both domains. After full adjustment, the odds of sufficiency and proficiency in mathematics increased by 1.9 (95% CI: 1.1-3.5) and 2.7 (95% CI: 1.7-4.3), respectively. Similarly, the odds of sufficiency and proficiency in language increased by 3.3 (95% CI: 1.7-9.7) and 2.6 (95% CI: 1.6-4.1), respectively.
- CONCLUSIONS: Adolescents with the highest allocation of time to regular PA performed much better in mathematics and language than inactive students. The academic benefits associated with PA can help to promote sustained behaviour changes regarding lifestyles. They can be more easily perceived as gains than health benefits alone.
Correa-Burrows P1, Burrows R, Orellana Y, Ivanovic D. (2014). Achievement in mathematics and language is linked to regular physical activity: a population study in Chilean youth. J Sports Sci., April(22), 1-8.
- INTRODUCTION: Although the effects of aerobic physical activity (APA) on children's physical health is well characterized, the effect of aerobic physical activity on cognition, academic achievement, and psychosocial function has not yet been established. This systematic review provides an overview of research elucidating the relationship between aerobic physical activity and children's cognition, academic achievement, and psychosocial function.
- METHODS: A systematic review of English articles was performed in April 2013 using MEDLINE, Cochrane, PsycINFO, SPORTDiscus, and EMBASE. Additional studies were identified through back-searching bibliographies. Only randomized control trials with an intervention of aerobic physical activity in children younger than 19 years that measured psychological, behavioral, cognitive, or academic outcomes were included.
- RESULTS: We found 8 relevant randomized control trials that met our inclusion criteria and extracted relevant data and evaluated the methodologic quality of the studies. Of the 8 studies identified, 2 studies were crossover randomized control trials studying the effects of acute aerobic physical activity on cognitive performance. Six studies were parallel-group randomized control studies, of which only 2 had a follow-up period of longer than 6 months. All studies showed that APA had a generally positive impact on children's cognition and psychosocial function. However, this relationship was found to be minimal in many studies and in some measures, no significant improvement was seen at all. There was no documentation of APA having any negative impact on children's cognition and psychosocial health, even in cases where school curriculum time was reassigned from classroom teaching to aerobic physical activity.
- CONCLUSION: APA is positively associated with cognition, academic achievement, behavior, and psychosocial functioning outcomes. More rigorous trials with adequate sample sizes assessing the impact of APA on children's cognitive abilities, psychosocial functioning, behavior, and academic achievement are needed, with standardized interventions, valid and reliable tools of measurement, and long-term follow-up for sustained cognitive and psychosocial outcomes.
Lees C, Hopkins J. (2013). Effect of aerobic exercise on cognition, academic achievement, and psychosocial function in children: a systematic review of randomized control trials. Prev Chronic Dis. 24(10), E174. doi: 10.5888/pcd10.130010.
- Research has shown that physical exercise enhances cognitive performance in individuals with intact cognition as well as in individuals diagnosed with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Although well identified in the field of health (for example, the transient hypofrontality theory), the underlying neurocognitive processes in intellectual and developmental disabilities remain widely unclear and thus characterize the primary aim of this research.
- Eleven adolescents with intellectual and developmental disabilities performed moderate cycling exercise and common relaxation. Cross-over designed, both 10-min meetings were randomly allocated at the same time of day with 24-h time lags in between. Conditions were embedded in ability-modified cognitive performance (decision-making processes). Participants' reaction times and their equivalent neurophysiological parameters were recorded using standard EEG and analyzed (spatial activity, N2).
- Exercise revealed a decrease in frontal electrocortical activity, most pronounced in the medial frontal gyrus (10%). To that effect, reaction time (p<0.01) was decreased and mirrored in decreased N2 latency (p<0.01) after exercise. In contrast, relaxation revealed no significant changes.
- Results of this research suggest exercise temporarily enhances neuronal activity in relation to cognitive performance for adolescents with intellectual and developmental disabilities; further research is needed to explore possible future effects on enhancing neurocognitive development.
Vogt T, Schneider S, Anneken V, Strüder HK. (2013). Moderate cycling exercise enhances neurocognitive processing in adolescents with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Res Dev Disabil, 34(9), 2708-2716.
- This downloadable report from the Institute of Medicine is a compilation of information around increasing physical activity in K-12 schools.
- The report is the product of the IOM’s Committee on Physical Activity and Physical Education in the School Environment, which was formed to review the current status of physical activity and physical education in the school environment and to examine the influences of physical activity and physical education on the short- and long-term physical, cognitive and brain, and psychosocial health and development of children and adolescents.
- The report includes a great deal of evidence about the impacts of physical activity on children’s health and academic performance.
- The report also concludes with a chapter of recommendations, that is inclusive of many areas supportive of Safe Routes to School, including shared use agreements to open school facilities to the communities, school siting policies that encourage locating schools within neighborhoods, and ensuring safe active travel routes for students.
National Research Council. Educating the Student Body: Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2013.
- The goal of the study was to test students for cross-sectional and longitudinal associations between objectively measured free-living physical activity (PA) and academic attainment in adolescents.
- Data from 4755 participants (45% male) with valid measurement of PA (total volume and intensity) by accelerometry at age 11 from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) was examined. Data linkage was performed with nationally administered school assessments in English, Math and Science at ages 11, 13 and 16.
- Results: After controlling for total volume of PA, the percentage of time spent in moderate-vigorous intensity physical activity (MVPA) predicted increased performance in English assessments in both sexes, taking into account confounding variables. In Math at 16 years, percentage of time in MVPA predicted increased performance for males (standardised β=0.11, 95% CI 0.00 to 0.22) and females (β=0.08, 95% CI 0.00 to 0.16). For females the percentage of time spent in MVPA at 11 years predicted increased Science scores at 11 and 16 years (β=0.14 (95% CI 0.03 to 0.25) and 0.14 (0.07 to 0.21), respectively). The correction for regression dilution approximately doubled the standardised β coefficients.
- The findings suggest a long-term positive impact of MVPA on academic attainment in adolescence.
Booth, J N, Leary, S D, Joinson, C, Ness, A R, Tomporowski, P D, Boyle, J M, & Reilly, J J. (2013). Associations between objectively measured physical activity and academic attainment in adolescents from a UK cohort. British Journal of Sports Medicine. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2013-092334
- There is a growing trend of inactivity among children, which may not only result in poorer physical health, but also poorer cognitive health. Previous research has shown that lower fitness has been related to decreased cognitive function for tasks requiring perception, memory, and cognitive control as well as lower academic achievement.
- Researchers investigated the relationship between aerobic fitness, learning, and memory on a task that involved remembering names and locations on a fictitious map. Different learning strategies and recall procedures were employed to better understand fitness effects on learning novel material.
- Forty-eight 9–10 year old children (n = 24 high fit; HF and n = 24 low fit; LF) performed a task requiring them to learn the names of specific regions on a map, under two learning conditions in which they only studied (SO) versus a condition in which they were tested during study (TS). The retention day occurred one day after initial learning and involved two different recall conditions: free recall and cued recall.
- Results: There were no differences in performance at initial learning between higher fit and lower fit participants. However, during the retention session higher fit children outperformed lower fit children, particularly when the initial learning strategy involved relatively poor recall performance (i.e., study only versus test-study strategy).
- Conclusions: We interpret these novel data to suggest that fitness can boost learning and memory of children and that these fitness-associated performance benefits are largest in conditions in which initial learning is the most challenging. Such data have important implications for both educational practice and policy.
Raine LB, Lee HK, Saliba BJ, Chaddock-Heyman L, Hillman CH, et al. . (2013). The Influence of Childhood Aerobic Fitness on Learning and Memory. PLoS ONE, 8(9), e72666. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0072666
- Gross and fine motor skills and cognitive performance in obese and overweight children were compared to healthy weight children.
- Participants were 1,543 children (797 boys and 746 girls) ages 43 to 84 months, attending childcare centers in Munich, Germany.
- According to German Body Mass Index (BMI) standards for age and sex, 4.6% of the children were classified as obese (percentile greater or equal 97), 6.8% as overweight (percentile greater or equal 90 and less than 97), 5.9% as underweight (percentile less than 10), and 83.1% as being of healthy weight.
- Dependent variables were physical characteristics (height, weight, skinfold thickness), physical fitness (standing broad jump, shuttle run, hanging), body coordination (balancing forward, balancing backward, lateral jump, hopping), manual dexterity (right and left hand), and cognitive performance (intelligence, verbal ability, concentration).
- Results showed:
- Higher proportions of children from lower socioeconomic and immigrant backgrounds were overweight.
- There was no association between weight and sex.
- Overweight children showed lower performance on gross motor skills (coordination and fitness), manual dexterity, and intelligence compared to healthy weight children, even after controlling for the effects of social class and immigration status.
Krombholz, H. (2013). Motor and cognitive performance of overweight preschool children. Percept Mot Skills, 116(1), 40-57.
- Physical activity is associated with improved affective experience and enhanced cognitive processing. Potential age differences in the degree of benefit, however, are poorly understood because most studies examine either younger or older adults.
- The present study examined age differences in cognitive performance and affective experience immediately following a single bout of moderate exercise.
- Methods: Participants (144 community members aged 19 to 93) were randomly assigned to one of two experimental conditions:
- exercise (15 min of moderate intensity stationary cycling) or
- control (15 min completing ratings of neutral IAPS images).
- Before and after the manipulation, participants completed tests of working memory and momentary affect experience was measured.
- Results suggest that exercise is associated with increased levels of high-arousal positive affect (HAP) and decreased levels of low-arousal positive affect (LAP) relative to control condition.
- Age moderated the effects of exercise on LAP, such that younger age was associated with a drop in reported LAP postexercise, whereas the effects of exercise on HAP were consistent across age.
- Exercise also led to faster recall times on a working memory task than the control condition across age. Self-reported negative affect was unchanged.
- Overall, findings suggest that exercise may hold important benefits for both affective experience and cognitive performance regardless of age.
Hogan, C. L., Mata, J., & Carstensen, L. L. (2013). Exercise holds immediate benefits for affect and cognition in younger and older adults. Psychol Aging, 28(2), 587-594. doi: 10.1037/a0032634
- This study examined the association between physical fitness and academic achievement and determined the influence of socioeconomic status (SES) on the association between fitness and academic achievement in school-aged youth.
- Overall, 1,701 third-, sixth-, and ninth-grade students from 5 school districts participated in the assessments.
- Fitness was assessed using FITNESSGRAM (aerobic fitness, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition). Results were used to determine individual fitness scores.
- Academic achievement was measured by standardized tests for Math (all grades), English (all grades), and Social Studies (sixth and ninth grades only).
- The SES was determined using eligibility for free and reduced lunch program.
- There were no significant differences between fitness groups for Math and English in third-grade students.
- Sixth- and ninth-grade students with high fitness scored significantly better on Math and Social Studies tests compared with less fit students.
- Lower SES students scored significantly worse on all tests.
- Muscular strength and muscular endurance were significantly associated with academic achievement in all grades.
- Conclusions: Compared with all other variables, SES appears to have the strongest association with academic achievement. However, it also appears that high fitness levels are positively associated with academic achievement in school-aged youth.
Coe, D. P., Peterson, T., Blair, C., Schutten, M. C., & Peddie, H. (2013). Physical fitness, academic achievement, and socioeconomic status in school-aged youth. J Sch Health, 83(7), 500-507. doi: 10.1111/josh.12058
- This study examined the association between fitness change and subsequent academic performance in Taiwanese schoolchildren from 7th grade to 9th grade.
- The 7th graders from 1 junior high school district participated in this study (N = 669).
- Academic performance was extracted from school records at the end of each grade.
- Cardiovascular (CV) fitness, sit-and-reach flexibility, bent-leg curl-ups, and height and weight for calculating body mass index (BMI) were assessed at the start of each grade.
- The results showed that improvement in CV fitness, but not muscular endurance or flexibility, is significantly related to greater academic performance. A weak and nonsignificant academic-BMI relationship was seen.
- Conclusion: CV fitness exhibits stronger longitudinal associations with academic performance than other forms of fitness or BMI for adolescents
Chen LJ, Fox KR, Ku PW, Taun CY. (2013). Fitness change and subsequent academic performance in adolescents. J Sch Health, 83(9), 631-638. doi: 10.1111/josh.12075
- The intervention focused on increasing the time and intensity of Physical Education (PE), on adolescents' cognitive performance and academic achievement.
- A 4-month group-randomized controlled trial was conducted in 67 adolescents from South-East Spain, in 2007.
- Three classes were randomly allocated into control group (CG), experimental group 1 (EG1) and experimental group 2 (EG2). CG received usual PE (two sessions/week), EG1 received four PE sessions/week and EG2 received four PE sessions/week of high intensity.
- 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, and academic achievement by school grades.
- Results: All the cognitive performance variables, except verbal reasoning, increased more in EG2 than in CG (all P < 0.05). Average school grades (e.g., mathematics) increased more in EG2 than in CG. Overall, EG2 improved more than EG1, without differences between EG1 and CG.
- Conclusions: Increased PE can benefit cognitive performance and academic achievement. This study contributes to the current knowledge by suggesting that the intensity of PE sessions might play a role in the positive effect of physical activity on cognition and academic success.
- Future studies involving larger sample sizes should confirm or contrast these preliminary findings.
Ardoy, D. N., Fernandez-Rodriguez, J. M., Jimenez-Pavon, D., Castillo, R., Ruiz, J. R., & Ortega, F. B. (2013). A Physical Education trial improves adolescents' cognitive performance and academic achievement: the EDUFIT study. Scand J Med Sci Sports. doi: 10.1111/sms.12093
- Obesity and physical inactivity may have a negative impact on cognitive function and academic achievement. This prospective study investigated whether childhood motor function predicts later academic achievement via physical activity, fitness, and obesity.
- The study sample included 8,061 children from the Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1986. Baseline data included parent-reported motor function at age 8 years old. This was then compared with self-reported physical activity, predicted cardiorespiratory fitness (cycle ergometer test), obesity (body weight and height), and academic achievement (grades) at age 16 years old.
- Structural equation models with unstandardized (B) and standardized (β) coefficients were used to test whether, and to what extent, physical activity, cardiorespiratory fitness, and obesity at age 16 mediated the association between childhood motor function and adolescents’ academic achievement.
- Physical activity was associated with a higher grade-point average, and obesity was associated with a lower grade-point average in adolescence.
- Furthermore, compromised motor function in childhood had a negative indirect effect on adolescents’ academic achievement via physical inactivity (B = –0.023, 95% confidence interval = –0.031, –0.015) and obesity (B = –0.025, 95% confidence interval = –0.039, –0.011), but not via cardiorespiratory fitness.
- These results suggest that physical activity and obesity may mediate the association between childhood motor function and adolescents’ academic achievement.
- Compromised motor function in childhood may represent an important factor driving the effects of obesity and physical inactivity on academic underachievement.
Marko T. Kantomaa, Emmanuel Stamatakis, Anna Kankaanpää, Marika Kaakinen, Alina Rodriguez, Anja Taanila, Timo Ahonen, Marjo-Riitta Järvelin, and Tuija Tammelin. (2013). Physical activity and obesity mediate the association between childhood motor function and adolescents’ academic achievement. PNAS 2013 110(5), 1917-1922. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1214574110
- Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012;166(1):49-55. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2011.716
- The purpose of this study is to describe the prospective relationship between physical activity and academic performance.
- Prospective studies for this systematic review were identified from searches in PubMed, PsycINFO, Cochrane Central, and Sportdiscus from 1990 through 2010. Studies were selected by screening the titles and abstracts for eligibility, rating the methodological quality of the studies, and extracting the data. Studies had to report at least one physical activity or physical fitness measurement during childhood or adolescence. Studies also had to report at least one academic performance or cognition measure during childhood or adolescence.
- This systematic review identified 10 observational and 4 intervention studies. The quality score of the studies ranged from 22% to 75%. Two studies were scored as high quality. Methodological quality scores were particularly low for the reliability and validity of the measurement instruments. Based on the results of the best-evidence synthesis, there was evidence of a significant longitudinal positive relationship between physical activity and academic performance.
- Participation in physical activity is positively related to academic performance in children. Because only 2 high-quality studies were found, future high-quality studies are needed to confirm our findings. These studies should thoroughly examine the dose-response relationship between physical activity and academic performance as well as explanatory mechanisms for this relationship.
Singh, A., L. Uijtdewilligen, et al. (2012). "Physical Activity and Performance at School: A Systematic Review of the Literature Including a Methodological Quality Assessment." Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 166(1): 49-55.
- This study examined associations of fitness and fatness with cognitive processes, academic achievement, and behavior, independent of demographic factors, at the baseline of an exercise trial.
- Overweight, sedentary but otherwise healthy 7–11 year olds (N = 170) participated in a study of health, cognition and achievement in the Augusta, GA area from 2003–2006. Children underwent evaluations of fatness and fitness, psychological assessments of cognition and academic achievement, and behavior ratings by parents and teachers. Partial correlations examined associations of fitness and fatness with cognitive and achievement scores and behavior ratings, controlling for demographic factors.
- Fitness was associated with better cognition, achievement and behavior, and fatness with worse scores. Specifically, executive function, mathematics and reading achievement, and parent ratings of child behavior were related to fitness and fatness. Teacher ratings were related to fitness.
- These results extend prior studies by providing reliable, standardized measures of cognitive processes, achievement, and behavior in relation to detailed measures of fitness and fatness. However, cross-sectional associations do not necessarily indicate that improving one factor, such as fatness or fitness, will result in improvements in factors that were associated with it. Thus, randomized clinical trials are necessary to determine the effects of interventions.
Davis, C. L. and S. Cooper (2011). "Fitness, fatness, cognition, behavior, and academic achievement among overweight children: Do cross-sectional associations correspond to exercise trial outcomes?" Preventive Medicine 52, Supplement(0): S65-S69.
- The aim of this cross-sectional study is to examine the associations between active commuting to school and cognitive performance in adolescents in five cities (Granada, Madrid, Murcia, Santander, and Zaragoza) in Spain.
- In this study, a total of 1700 adolescents (892 girls) aged 13 to 18.5 years were participated by self-reporting their mode and duration of transportation to school and their participation in extracurricular physical activity.
- Cognitive performance (verbal, numeric, and reasoning abilities and an overall score) was measured by the Spanish version of the SRA Test of Educational Ability.
- Active commuting to school was associated with better cognitive performance (all P < .05) in girls but not in boys, independent of potential confounders including participation in extracurricular physical activity. In addition, adolescent girls who spent more than 15 minutes actively commuting to school had better scores in 3 of the 4 cognitive performance variables (all P < .05) than those who spent less time actively commuting to school ( 15 minutes) as well as better scores in all of the cognitive performance variables (all P < .001) than girls inactively commuting.
- Active commuting to school and its duration may positively influence cognitive performance in adolescent girls.
Martinez-Gomez, D., J. R. Ruiz, et al. (2011). "Active Commuting to School and Cognitive Performance in Adolescents: The AVENA Study." Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 165(4): 300-305.
- A nationwide survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control in 2007 reported 65% of high school students did not meet the recommendation that youth participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week (CDC, 2008). While research has focused its attention primarily on bodily health, growing evidence supports the benefits of physical activity on brain health (Ratey & Hagerman, 2008).
- Physical activity is important and many adolescents are not meeting the recommendation, therefore, it is important to explore the adolescent perceptions to understand which factors influence physical activity participation. The significance of this study is to gain a better understanding of adolescent perceptions to explain the role physical activity plays on academic achievement. The intent is to provide additional insight into improving educational and community programs and policies to increase physical activity among adolescents.
- A two-phase explanatory mixed methods design was used. In the first quantitative phase, descriptive statistics, correlations, and two-way ANOVAs were conducted. Results from the study of 208 secondary adolescents from a Midwestern setting indicated that physical activity does not have a significant relationship with academic achievement. However, two-way ANOVA results did provide support for the existence of differences in ecological factors influencing physical activity and academic achievement.
- In the second qualitative phase, extreme case sampling was used to select participants for focus group interviews. Analysis of the third research question did reveal substantive differences in perceptions of physical activity and academic achievement between each of the four extreme groups. Themes included: enjoyment, motivation, self-efficacy, perceived feelings, health, social influences, support, environment, academics, and barriers.
- A connection of the quantitative and qualitative results found social influences, self-efficacy, support, environment, academics, and motivation the greatest influences statistically and substantively on physical activity influences. The fourth analysis suggested more students feel there is a relationship between physical activity and academic achievement. The fifth analysis provides suggestions for adolescents, parents, schools and the community how to increase physical activity participation among adolescents.
Hylok, M. J. (2011). “Exploring student perceptions to explain the relationship between physical activity and academic achievement in adolescents: A mixed methods study.”