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 Academic success is an outcome that most parents see as a high priority and many actively help their children strive to attain it. We are all aware that regular physical activity is good for our health, but recent literature has also linked physical activity to helping youth perform better in school.

There are several theories for why exercise is beneficial for brain function:

  1. Increased blood flow to the brain, which helps feed the brain with nutrients such as oxygen and glucose
  2. An increased level of endorphins lowers levels of stress and anxiety
  3. Improved growth factors that spark learning by increasing the number of brain cells in the hippocampus – the area of the brain that is essential for memory and learning 

Regular exercise has been linked to improved concentration, memory, verbal skills and self-esteem. Findings from available research suggest that physically fit children tend to perform better academically in school compared to those who are overweight or unfit and time spent in physical education classes may improve academic performance.

A study from the University of Illinois found that students performed better on reading comprehension, math and spelling when they had a 20-minute period of physical activity immediately preceding the test.

It may be easy to think that the physical activity a student participates in at school is enough to improve grades, but adding in some extra activities won’t hurt. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends finding family activities to participate in as well as encouraging youth to find an activity that they enjoy. By promoting fun physical activity, youth may not only benefit from increased academic potential, they have a greater chance of sustaining healthy lifestyle habits into adulthood.

References from the SIRC Collection:

1. Basch C. Physical Activity and the Achievement Gap Among Urban Minority Youth. Journal Of School Health. October 2011;81(10):626-634.
2. Fox C, Barr-Anderson D, Neumark-Sztainer D, Wall M. Physical Activity and Sports Team Participation: Associations With Academic Outcomes in Middle School and High School Students. Journal Of School Health. January 2010;80(1):31-37.
3. Harrington S, Engels H. School Physical Education, Physical Activity and Fitness: Their relationship to student learning — An update. MAHPERD Journal. Spring2009 2009;:21-23.
4. Joshi P, Howat H, Bryan C. Relationship Between Fitness Levels and Academic Performance. Journal Of Physical Education & Sport. December 2011;11(44):376-382.
5. Stevens T, To Y, Stevenson S, Lochbaum M. The Importance of Physical Activity and Physical Education in the Prediction of Academic Achievement. Journal Of Sport Behavior. December 2008;31(4):368-388.
6. VAN D, KELDER S, KOHL III H, RANJIT N, PERRY C. Associations of Physical Fitness and Academic Performance Among Schoolchildren. Journal Of School Health. December 2011;81(12):733-740.
7. Vazou S, Gavrilou P, Mamalaki E, Papanastasiou A, Sioumala N. Does integrating physical activity in the elementary school classroom influence academic motivation?. International Journal Of Sport & Exercise Psychology. December 2012;10(4):251-263.

The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.