A new US study of a racially and economically diverse urban population of children attending state-run schools found that kids who were physically fit scored better on standardized academic achievement tests than their less fit counterparts.

The study is published in the Journal of School Health and was the work of Dr Virginia R. Chomitz and colleagues. Chomitz is a scientist and lecturer at Harvard Medical School, and Adjunct Assistant Professor in nutrition science at Tufts University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The cross-sectional study looked at US public school data from 2004 to 2005 (in the US, unlike the UK, the term public school means government as opposed to privately funded) and examined the link between physical fitness and academic achievement in Math and English for over 1,000 kids enrolled in grades 4 to 8 during that time. Grades 4 to 8 in the US school system is approximately ages 9 to 14.

A passing score on the MCAS test (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test) counted as academic achievement, and physical fitness was assessed as the number of physical fitness tests passed during physical education (PE).

The researchers used multivariate logistic regression analyses to look at the links between the two sets of figures.

The results showed there was a significant link between academic achievement and physical fitness, in that the odds of passing both the standardized Math and English tests went up in line with the number of PE fitness tests passed. This was even after taking into account potential influencers such as race/ethnicity, gender, grade and socioeconomic status.

The authors concluded that:

“Results show statistically significant relationships between fitness and academic achievement.”

However, they also cautioned, that since this was a cross-sectional study, it could not say for certain which direction the link operated in: did academic achievement increase physical fitness, or did physical fitness increase academic achievement, or was it perhaps due to some other unknown factor that influenced both?

However, they suggested that while more research was needed, it would appear that giving children more time for physical activity during PE, recess, and out of school time may well support, and not threaten, academic achievement.

“Is There a Relationship Between Physical Fitness and Academic Achievement? Positive Results From Public School Children in the Northeastern United States.”
Virginia R. Chomitz, Meghan M. Slining, Robert J. McGowan, Suzanne E. Mitchell, Glen F. Dawson, Karen A. Hacker.
Journal of School Health 2009, Volume 79 Issue 1, Pages 30 – 37
First Published Online: Dec 19 2008.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1746-1561.2008.00371.x

Click here for Abstract.

Sources: Journal abstract, Wiley Blackwell press room.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD