Systematic Review of Physical Activity and Performance at School

Posted on: January 4, 2012

A recently published review (Singh et al, 2012) in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine concludes that “physical activity is positively related to academic performance in children”. Researchers conducted a systematic literature review for any articles (published since 1990) that included 3 elements:  physical activity, academic achievement, and age (limited the search to include studies in which the subjects were 0 – 18 years old). A methodological quality assessment was conducted with the 14 qualifying studies to assess participation rate, study attrition, data collection, and data analysis. Just two of the fourteen studies were deemed to be of “high methodological quality” (having a score of at least 70%).

In one of high quality studies (Nelson and Gordon-Larsen, 2006), physical activity was measured through a 7-day recall questionnaire of self-reported behaviors and participation in school activities and academic achievement was measured via self-report of score in math or English. In this observational study, students engaging in 5 or more bouts of moderate to vigorous physical activity were more likely to earn higher grades.

In the other study (Donnelly et al., 2009), an intervention group received an additional 90 minutes of physical activity and academic achievement was measured through a standardized individual achievement test. Children in this experimental group improvied their academic achievement scores in comparison to children in a control group.

Many of the other twelve studies also demonstrated a positive association between physical activity and academic performance. To gain further insight into the dose-response relationship and the potential explanatory mechanisms of this relationship, the authors call for more high quality studies, particularly those using an objective measure of physical activity.

Singh A, Uijtdewilligen L, Twisk JWR, van Mechelen W, Chinapaw MJM. Physical Activity and Performance at School:  A Systematic Review of the Literature Including a Methodological Quality Assessment. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. 2012;  166(1): 49 – 55.