A systematic review of earlier studies indicates that physical activity and academic performance of children may be positively linked.

In the January issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals, Amika Singh, Ph.D., of the Vrije Universiteit University Medical Center, EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and team reexamined evidence regarding the relationship between physical activity and academic performance, because of concerns that pressure to improve test scores often means more instructional time in the classroom with less time for physical activity.

The investigators used ten eligible observational and four eligible interventional studies to review, of which twelve were conducted in the United States, one in Canada and one in South Africa. The study sizes ranged from 53 to approximately 12,000 participants aged between 6 and 18 years with follow-ups ranging from 8 weeks to longer than five years.

The investigators state:

“According to the best-evidence synthesis, we found strong evidence of a significant positive relationship between physical activity and academic performance. The findings of one high-quality intervention study and one high-quality observational study suggest that being more physically active is positively related to improved academic performance in children.”

According to background information in the article, exercise could benefit cognition through increased blood and oxygen flow to the brain, which increases norepinephrine levels and endorphins. These increased levels lower people’s stress levels and improve their mood, whilst increasing growth factors that help create new nerve cells and support synaptic plasticity.

The investigators state that at present, “relatively few studies of high methodological quality have explored the relationship between physical activity and academic performance.” They commented that none of the studies used in their systematic review used an objective measure of physical activity.

They conclude:

“More high-quality studies are needed on the dose-response relationship between physical activity and academic performance and on the explanatory mechanisms, using reliable and valid measurement instruments to assess this relationship accurately.”

Written by Petra Rattue