How physical activity can boost academic performance in primary school Interestingly, the relationship between the physical and cognitive. Abstract. The aim of this study is to see if there are significant relationships between different variables of physical condition and academic performance. [Purpose] The purpose of this study was to identify the relationship between physical fitness level and academic achievement in middle school.
More recently, reviews have attempted to describe the effects of an acute or single bout of physical activity, as a behavior, on academic performance. These reviews have focused on brain health in older adults Colcombe and Kramer,as well as the effects of acute physical activity on cognition in adults Tomporowski, Some have considered age as part of the analysis Etnier et al. Reviews focusing on research conducted in children Sibley and Etnier, have examined the relationship among physical activity, participation in sports, and academic performance Trudeau and Shephard,; Singh et al.
The findings of most of these reviews align with the conclusions presented in a meta-analytic review conducted by Fedewa and Ahn The strongest relationships were found between aerobic fitness and achievement in mathematics, followed by IQ and reading performance. The range of cognitive performance measures, participant characteristics, and types of research design all mediated the relationship among physical activity, fitness, and academic performance.
With regard to physical activity interventions, which were carried out both within and beyond the school day, those involving small groups of peers around 10 youth of a similar age were associated with the greatest gains in academic performance.
The number of peer-reviewed publications on this topic is growing exponentially. Further evidence of the growth of this line of inquiry is its increased global presence. Positive relationships among physical activity, physical fitness, and academic performance have been found among students from the Netherlands Singh et al.
Broadly speaking, however, many of these studies show small to moderate effects and suffer from poor research designs Biddle and Asare, ; Singh et al.
Basch conducted a comprehensive review of how children's health and health disparities influence academic performance and learning. The author's report draws on empirical evidence suggesting that education reform will be ineffective unless children's health is made a priority. Basch concludes that schools may be the only place where health inequities can be addressed and that, if children's basic health needs are not met, they will struggle to learn regardless of the effectiveness of the instructional materials used.
More recently, Efrat conducted a review of physical activity, fitness, and academic performance to examine the achievement gap. He discovered that only seven studies had included socioeconomic status as a variable, despite its known relationship to education Sirin, Regular participation in physical activity also is a national learning standard for physical education, a standard intended to facilitate the establishment of habitual and meaningful engagement in physical activity NASPE, Yet although physical fitness and participation in physical activity are established as learning outcomes in all 50 states, there is little evidence to suggest that children actually achieve and maintain these standards see Chapter 2.
Statewide and national datasets containing data on youth physical fitness and academic performance have increased access to student-level data on this subject Grissom, ; Cottrell et al. Early research in South Australia focused on quantifying the benefits of physical activity and physical education during the school day; the benefits noted included increased physical fitness, decreased body fat, and reduced risk for cardiovascular disease Dwyer et al.
Even today, Dwyer and colleagues are among the few scholars who regularly include in their research measures of physical activity intensity in the school environment, which is believed to be a key reason why they are able to report differentiated effects of different intensities. The researchers concluded that additional time dedicated to physical education did not inhibit academic performance Shephard et al. Longitudinal follow-up investigating the long-term benefits of enhanced physical education experiences is encouraging but largely inconclusive.
Findings suggest that physical education was associated with physical activity in later life for females but not males Trudeau et al. Longitudinal studies such as those conducted in Sweden and Finland also suggest that physical education experiences may be related to adult engagement in physical activity Glenmark, ; Telama et al. From an academic performance perspective, longitudinal data on men who enlisted for military service imply that cardiovascular fitness at age 18 predicted cognitive performance in later life Aberg et al.
Specifically, they examined the individual contributions of aerobic capacity, muscle strength, muscle flexibility, and body composition to performance in mathematics and reading on the Illinois Standardized Achievement Test among a sample of children. Their findings corroborate those of the California Department of Education Grissom,indicating a general relationship between fitness and achievement test performance. When the individual components of the Fitnessgram were decomposed, the researchers determined that only aerobic capacity was related to test performance.
Muscle strength and flexibility showed no relationship, while an inverse association of BMI with test performance was observed, such that higher BMI was associated with lower test performance. Although Baxter and colleagues confirmed the importance of attending school in relation to academic performance through the use of 4th-grade student recall, correlations with BMI were not significant. State-mandated implementation of the coordinated school health model requires all schools in Texas to conduct annual fitness testing using the Fitnessgram among students in grades In a special issue of Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sportmultiple articles describe the current state of physical fitness among children in Texas; confirm the associations among school performance levels, academic achievement, and physical fitness Welk et al.
Also using data from Texas schools, Van Dusen and colleagues found that cardiovascular fitness had the strongest association with academic performance, particularly in mathematics over reading. Unlike previous research, which demonstrated a steady decline in fitness by developmental stage Duncan et al. Aerobic fitness, then, may be important to academic performance, as there may be a dose-response relationship Van Dusen et al.
Using a large sample of students in gradesChomitz and colleagues found that the likelihood of passing both mathematics and English achievement tests increased with the number of fitness tests passed during physical education class, and the odds of passing the mathematics achievement tests were inversely related to higher body weight.
Similar to the findings of Castelli and colleaguessocioeconomic status and demographic factors explained little of the relationship between aerobic fitness and academic performance; however, socioeconomic status may be an explanatory variable for students of low fitness London and Castrechini, In sum, numerous cross-sectional and correlational studies demonstrate small-to-moderate positive or null associations between physical fitness Grissom, ; Cottrell et al.
Moreover, the findings may support a dose-response association, suggesting that the more components of physical fitness e. From a public health and policy standpoint, the conclusions these findings support are limited by few causal inferences, a lack of data confirmation, and inadequate reliability because the data were often collected by nonresearchers or through self-report methods.
It may also be noted that this research includes no known longitudinal studies and few randomized controlled trials examples are included later in this chapter in the discussion of the developing brain. Physical Activity, Physical Education, and Academic Performance In contrast with the correlational data presented above for physical fitness, more information is needed on the direct effects of participation in physical activity programming and physical education classes on academic performance.
In a meta-analysis, Sibley and Etnier found a positive relationship between physical activity and cognition in school-age youth agedsuggesting that physical activity, as well as physical fitness, may be related to cognitive outcomes during development. Since that meta-analysis, however, several papers have reported robust relationships between aerobic fitness and different aspects of memory in children e.
Regardless, the comprehensive review of Sibley and Etnier was important because it helped bring attention to an emerging literature suggesting that physical activity may benefit cognitive development even as it also demonstrated the need for further study to better understand the multifaceted relationship between physical activity and cognitive and brain health.
The regular engagement in physical activity achieved during physical education programming can also be related to academic performance, especially when the class is taught by a physical education teacher.
In an experimental design, seven elementary schools were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: No significant differences by condition were found for mathematics testing; however, reading scores were significantly higher in the specialist condition relative to the control condition Sallis et al. The authors conclude that spending time in physical education with a specialist did not have a negative effect on academic performance. Shortcomings of this research include the amount of data loss from pre- to posttest, the use of results of 2nd-grade testing that exceeded the national average in performance as baseline data, and the use of norm-referenced rather than criterion-based testing.
In seminal research conducted by Gabbard and Bartonsix different conditions of physical activity no activity; 20, 30, 40, and 50 minutes; and posttest no activity were completed by 2nd graders during physical education.
Each physical activity session was followed by 5 minutes of rest and the completion of 36 math problems.
The relationship between physical fitness and academic achievement among adolescent in South Korea
The authors found a potential threshold effect whereby only the minute condition improved mathematical performance, with no differences by gender.
A longitudinal study of the kindergarten class of —, using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, investigated the association between enrollment in physical education and academic achievement Carlson et al.
Higher amounts of physical education were correlated with better academic performance in mathematics among females, but this finding did not hold true for males. Ahamed and colleagues found in a cluster randomized trial that, after 16 months of a classroom-based physical activity intervention, there was no significant difference between the treatment and control groups in performance on the standardized Cognitive Abilities Test, Third Edition CAT Others have found, however, that coordinative exercise Budde et al.
Specifically, Coe and colleagues examined the association of enrollment in physical education and self-reported vigorous- or moderate-intensity physical activity outside school with performance in core academic courses and on the Terra Nova Standardized Achievement Test among more than 6th-grade students.
Their findings indicate that academic performance was unaffected by enrollment in physical education classes, which were found to average only 19 minutes of vigorous- or moderate-intensity physical activity. When time spent engaged in vigorous- or moderate-intensity physical activity outside of school was considered, however, a significant positive relation to academic performance emerged, with more time engaged in vigorous- or moderate-intensity physical activity being related to better grades but not test scores Coe et al.
Studies of participation in sports and academic achievement have found positive associations Mechanic and Hansell, ; Dexter, ; Crosnoe, ; Eitle and Eitle, ; Stephens and Schaben, ; Eitle, ; Miller et al. Other studies, however, have found no association between participation in sports and academic performance Fisher et al. The findings of these studies need to be interpreted with caution as many of their designs failed to account for the level of participation by individuals in the sport e.
Further, it is unclear whether policies required students to have higher GPAs to be eligible for participation. Offering sports opportunities is well justified regardless of the cognitive benefits, however, given that adolescents may be less likely to engage in risky behaviors when involved in sports or other extracurricular activities Page et al. Although a consensus on the relationship of physical activity to academic achievement has not been reached, the vast majority of available evidence suggests the relationship is either positive or neutral.How Exercise Makes you Smarter and a Better Student
The meta-analytic review by Fedewa and Ahn suggests that interventions entailing aerobic physical activity have the greatest impact on academic performance; however, all types of physical activity, except those involving flexibility alone, contribute to enhanced academic performance, as do interventions that use small groups about 10 students rather than individuals or large groups. Regardless of the strength of the findings, the literature indicates that time spent engaged in physical activity is beneficial to children because it has not been found to detract from academic performance, and in fact can improve overall health and function Sallis et al.
Single Bouts of Physical Activity Beyond formal physical education, evidence suggests that multi-component approaches are a viable means of providing physical activity opportunities for children across the school curriculum see also Chapter 6.
Although health-related fitness lessons taught by certified physical education teachers result in greater student fitness gains relative to such lessons taught by other teachers Sallis et al. Single sessions or bouts of physical activity have independent merit, offering immediate benefits that can enhance the learning experience. Studies have found that single bouts of physical activity result in improved attention Hillman et al. Yet single bouts of physical activity have differential effects, as very vigorous exercise has been associated with cognitive fatigue and even cognitive decline in adults Tomporowski, As seen in Figurehigh levels of effort, arousal, or activation can influence perception, decision making, response preparation, and actual response.
For discussion of the underlying constructs and differential effects of single bouts of physical activity on cognitive performance, see Tomporowski Diagram of a simplified version of Sanders's cognitive-energetic model of human information processing adapted from Jones and Hardy, For children, classrooms are busy places where they must distinguish relevant information from distractions that emerge from many different sources occurring simultaneously. A student must listen to the teacher, adhere to classroom procedures, focus on a specific task, hold and retain information, and make connections between novel information and previous experiences.
Hillman and colleagues demonstrated that a single bout of moderate-intensity walking 60 percent of maximum heart rate resulted in significant improvements in performance on a task requiring attentional inhibition e. These findings were accompanied by changes in neuroelectric measures underlying the allocation of attention see Figure and significant improvements on the reading subtest of the Wide Range Achievement Test. No such effects were observed following a similar duration of quiet rest.
These findings were later replicated and extended to demonstrate benefits for both mathematics and reading performance in healthy children and those diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder Pontifex et al. Further replications of these findings demonstrated that a single bout of moderate-intensity exercise using a treadmill improved performance on a task of attention and inhibition, but similar benefits were not derived from moderate-intensity exercise that involved exergaming O'Leary et al.
It was also found that such benefits were derived following cessation of, but not during, the bout of exercise Drollette et al.
The applications of such empirical findings within the school setting remain unclear. A randomized controlled trial entitled Physical Activity Across the Curriculum PAAC used cluster randomization among 24 schools to examine the effects of physically active classroom lessons on BMI and academic achievement Donnelly et al. The academically oriented physical activities were intended to be of vigorous or moderate intensity 3—6 metabolic equivalents [METs] and to last approximately 10 minutes and were specifically designed to supplement content in mathematics, language arts, geography, history, spelling, science, and health.
The study followed boys and girls for 3 years as they rose from 2nd or 3rd to 4th or 5th grades. Changes in academic achievement, fitness, and blood screening were considered secondary outcomes. During a 3-year period, students who engaged in physically active lessons, on average, improved their academic achievement by 6 percent, while the control groups exhibited a 1 percent decrease. FIGURE Change in academic scores from baseline after physically active classroom lessons in elementary schools in northeast Kansas — It is important to note that cognitive tasks completed before, during, and after physical activity show varying effects, but the effects were always positive compared with sedentary behavior.
In a study carried out by Drollette and colleagues36 preadolescent children completed two cognitive tasks—a flanker task to assess attention and inhibition and a spatial nback task to assess working memory—before, during, and after seated rest and treadmill walking conditions. The children sat or walked on different days for an average of 19 minutes. The results suggest that the physical activity enhanced cognitive performance for the attention task but not for the task requiring working memory.
Accordingly, although more research is needed, the authors suggest that the acute effects of exercise may be selective to certain cognitive processes i. Indeed, data collected using a task-switching paradigm i. Thus, findings to date indicate a robust relationship of acute exercise to transient improvements in attention but appear inconsistent for other aspects of cognition. Academic Learning Time and On- and Off-Task Behaviors Excessive time on task, inattention to task, off-task behavior, and delinquency are important considerations in the learning environment given the importance of academic learning time to academic performance.
How physical activity can boost academic performance in primary school
These behaviors are observable and of concern to teachers as they detract from the learning environment. Systematic observation by trained observers may yield important insight regarding the effects of short physical activity breaks on these behaviors. Indeed, systematic observations of student behavior have been used as an alternative means of measuring academic performance Mahar et al.
After the development of classroom-based physical activities, called Energizers, teachers were trained in how to implement such activities in their lessons at least twice per week Mahar et al.
Measurements of baseline physical activity and on-task behaviors were collected in two 3rd-grade and two 4th-grade classes, using pedometers and direct observation. The intervention included students, while served as controls by not engaging in the activities. A subgroup of 62 3rd and 4th graders was observed for on-task behavior in the classroom following the physical activity.
Children who participated in Energizers took more steps during the school day than those who did not; they also increased their on-task behaviors by more than 20 percent over baseline measures. A systematic review of a similar in-class, academically oriented, physical activity plan—Take 10! The findings suggest that children who experienced Take 10! Further, children in the Take 10! Some have expressed concern that introducing physical activity into the classroom setting may be distracting to students.
Yet in one study it was sedentary students who demonstrated a decrease in time on task, while active students returned to the same level of on-task behavior after an active learning task Grieco et al.
How physical activity can boost academic performance in primary school
Among the 97 3rd-grade students in this study, a small but nonsignificant increase in on-task behaviors was seen immediately following these active lessons. Additionally, these improvements were not mediated by BMI. In sum, although presently understudied, physically active lessons may increase time on task and attention to task in the classroom setting. Given the complexity of the typical classroom, the strategy of including content-specific lessons that incorporate physical activity may be justified.
Recess It is recommended that every child have 20 minutes of recess each day and that this time be outdoors whenever possible, in a safe activity NASPE, Consistent engagement in recess can help students refine social skills, learn social mediation skills surrounding fair play, obtain additional minutes of vigorous- or moderate-intensity physical activity that contribute toward the recommend 60 minutes or more per day, and have an opportunity to express their imagination through free play Pellegrini and Bohn, ; see also Chapter 6.
When children participate in recess before lunch, additional benefits accrue, such as less food waste, increased incidence of appropriate behavior in the cafeteria during lunch, and greater student readiness to learn upon returning to the classroom after lunch Getlinger et al. To examine the effects of engagement in physical activity during recess on classroom behavior, Barros and colleagues examined data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study on 10, 8- to 9-year-old children.
Results indicate that children who had at least 15 minutes of recess were more likely to exhibit appropriate behavior in the classroom Barros et al. In another study, 43 4th-grade students were randomly assigned to 1 or no days of recess to examine the effects on classroom behavior Jarrett et al.
The researchers concluded that on-task behavior was better among the children who had recess.
In a series of studies examining kindergartners' attention to task following a minute recess, increased time on task was observed during learning centers and story reading Pellegrini et al. Despite these positive findings centered on improved attention, it is important to note that few of these studies actually measured the intensity of the physical activity during recess.
From a slightly different perspective, survey data from Virginia elementary school principals suggest that time dedicated to student participation in physical education, art, and music did not negatively influence academic performance Wilkins et al.
Thus, the strategy of reducing time spent in physical education to increase academic performance may not have the desired effect. The evidence on in-school physical activity supports the provision of physical activity breaks during the school day as a way to increase fluid intelligence, time on task, and attention.
New technology has emerged that has allowed scientists to understand the impact of lifestyle factors on the brain from the body systems level down to the molecular level. A greater understanding of the cognitive components that subserve academic performance and may be amenable to intervention has thereby been gained. Research conducted in both laboratory and field settings has helped define this line of inquiry and identify some preliminary underlying mechanisms.
The Evidence Base on the Relationship of Physical Activity to Brain Health and Cognition in Older Adults Despite the current focus on the relationship of physical activity to cognitive development, the evidence base is larger on the association of physical activity with brain health and cognition during aging. Much can be learned about how physical activity affects childhood cognition and scholastic achievement through this work.
Despite earlier investigations into the relationship of physical activity to cognitive aging see Etnier et al. Specifically, older adults aged 60 and 75 were randomly assigned to a 6-month intervention of either walking i. The walking group but not the flexibility group showed improved cognitive performance, measured as a shorter response time to the presented stimulus.
Results from a series of tasks that tapped different aspects of cognitive control indicated that engagement in physical activity is a beneficial means of combating cognitive aging Kramer et al.
Cognitive control, or executive control, is involved in the selection, scheduling, and coordination of computational processes underlying perception, memory, and goal-directed action.
These processes allow for the optimization of behavioral interactions within the environment through flexible modulation of the ability to control attention MacDonald et al. Core cognitive processes that make up cognitive control or executive control include inhibition, working memory, and cognitive flexibility Diamond,processes mediated by networks that involve the prefrontal cortex.
Inhibition or inhibitory control refers to the ability to override a strong internal or external pull so as to act appropriately within the demands imposed by the environment Davidson et al. For example, one exerts inhibitory control when one stops speaking when the teacher begins lecturing.
Working memory refers to the ability to represent information mentally, manipulate stored information, and act on the information Davidson et al. In solving a difficult mathematical problem, for example, one must often remember the remainder.
Finally, cognitive flexibility refers to the ability to switch perspectives, focus attention, and adapt behavior quickly and flexibly for the purposes of goal-directed action Blair et al. For example, one must shift attention from the teacher who is teaching a lesson to one's notes to write down information for later study. Based on their earlier findings on changes in cognitive control induced by aerobic training, Colcombe and Kramer conducted a meta-analysis to examine the relationship between aerobic training and cognition in older adults aged using data from 18 randomized controlled exercise interventions.
Their findings suggest that aerobic training is associated with general cognitive benefits that are selectively and disproportionately greater for tasks or task components requiring greater amounts of cognitive control.
A second and more recent meta-analysis Smith et al. In older adults, then, aerobic training selectively improves cognition. Hillman and colleagues examined the relationship between physical activity and inhibition one aspect of cognitive control using a computer-based stimulus-response protocol in individuals aged Their results indicate that greater amounts of physical activity are related to decreased response speed across task conditions requiring variable amounts of inhibition, suggesting a generalized relationship between physical activity and response speed.
In addition, the authors found physical activity to be related to better accuracy across conditions in older adults, while no such relationship was observed for younger adults. Of interest, this relationship was disproportionately larger for the condition requiring greater amounts of inhibition in the older adults, suggesting that physical activity has both a general and selective association with task performance Hillman et al.
With advances in neuroimaging techniques, understanding of the effects of physical activity and aerobic fitness on brain structure and function has advanced rapidly over the past decade. In particular, a series of studies Colcombe et al. Normal aging results in the loss of brain tissue Colcombe et al. Thus cognitive functions subserved by these brain regions such as those involved in cognitive control and aspects of memory are expected to decay more dramatically than other aspects of cognition.
Colcombe and colleagues investigated the relationship of aerobic fitness to gray and white matter tissue loss using magnetic resonance imaging MRI in 55 healthy older adults aged They observed robust age-related decreases in tissue density in the frontal, temporal, and parietal regions using voxel-based morphometry, a technique used to assess brain volume. The foundation for a physically active lifestyle is laid in childhood.
Unfortunately, we are seeing a decline in the number of children who engage in the recommended amount of physical activity each day 60 minutes of moderately or highly intense activity.
Instead, children are sedentary much of the time, sitting in the classroom or in front of the television. This problematic development is reflected in a sharp rise in obesity levels among children. As children spend a large number of their waking hours at school, schools provide the perfect environment for children to be physically active.
However, many schools have cut back on opportunities for them to do so. This is not surprising; schools are under great pressure to improve academic achievement. As a result, many educators believe that academics i.
Children who are more physically active generally do better in school, as reflected in their performance in mathematics, spelling, and reading. Increased physical activity is associated with improved academic achievement and stronger connections between brain regions, as well as with more efficient activation of regions involved in cognitive tasks.
Executive functioning is an umbrella term for a set of higher-order cognitive functions that guide and control behavior in order to reach specific goals. Executive functions allow an individual to retain information, concentrate on a specific task, and inhibit automatic responses. They are very important for performance in school. Because physical activity is closely linked to executive functioning, and because executive functions are strong predictors of academic achievement, it seems only logical that the executive functions of children who are more physically active would be more highly developed.
We found that the executive functions of less physically fit students were less well developed.