January 3, 2012 — Concerned that physical activity times in schools might be cut back to make room for more academic study to improve test scores, researchers in the Netherlands conducted a systematic review of published studies and found that moderate to vigorous physical activity may actually improve academic performance in children and adolescents.
In an article published in the January issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, researchers led by Amika Singh, PhD, from the Vrije Universiteit University Medical Center at EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, write, "According to the best-evidence synthesis, we found strong evidence of a significant positive relationship between physical activity and academic performance."
After searching 4 databases, the researchers screened 844 potentially related articles and determined that 14 qualified as relevant to their hypothesis. Of those 14 studies, 12 were performed in the United States, 1 was Canadian, and 1 was South African. Sample sizes ranged from 53 to 12,000 individuals aged 6 through 18 years, and follow-up duration ranged from 8 weeks to more than 5 years. The researchers rated only 2 of the 14 studies as having high methodologic quality. One of those studies was observational and the other was interventional.
"[B]oth high-quality studies supported our hypothesis of physical activity being positively related to academic performance in children," they write.
The studies they reviewed measured physical activity based on school athletic participation, self-reported physical activity questionnaires, or in the case of intervention studies, increased physical activity in schools during the study period.
The studies measured academic achievement by self-reported grades, by cognitive test scores, or by both. The academic areas included reading, math, world studies, and history.
The researchers concluded that although few published studies have assessed the link between physical activity and academic performance, enough evidence exists to report that "physical activity is positively related to academic performance in young people." They call for more high-quality studies to explore the mechanisms of such a relationship and to explore more physical activities than just school sports participation.
The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.
Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012;166:49-55. Abstract
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