Being Physically Fit May Boost School Grades

Academic performance influenced by multiple fitness components in kids and teenagers

(RxWiki News) Being physically fit is healthy for the body and mind, regardless of age. New research suggests that physical fitness also may give a boost to kids' grades in school.

A recent study found that multiple components of physical fitness, especially motor ability, had a positive influence the academic performance of children and teens.

The researchers believe that greater efforts should be made to promote physical fitness activities in young people. They recommended that these activities involve endurance and coordination.

"Discuss your child’s physical activity with a pediatrician."

The lead author of this study was Irene Esteban-Cornejo, MSc, from the Department of Physical Education, Sports and Human Movement at Autonomous University of Madrid in Spain.

This study included 2,038 youths (989 girls and 1,049 boys) aged 6 to 18 years old from schools in Madrid and Cadiz, Spain. These participants were enrolled in the UP & DOWN study between September 2011 and June 2012. The average age of the entire study population was 10 years old.

The researchers tested the participants’ fitness abilities by measuring three components: cardiorespiratory capacity, motor ability and muscle strength.

Cardiorespiratory capacity describes the ability of the body to use and replenish oxygen and blood flow for fuel during a certain amount of time exercising. Motor ability was determined by measuring speed of movement, agility and coordination.

The participants were categorized into three risk groups according to how they scored on each fitness component:

  • Those with low motor ability and cardiorespiratory capacity were considered the group at highest risk.
  • Those with either low motor ability or low cardiorespiratory capacity were considered to be at medium risk.
  • Those who did not perform poorly on any fitness components were considered the nonrisk group.

The researchers also measured the participants’ height, weight and waist size to assess fatness.

The participants’ academic performance was evaluated using school records, and was measured by four indicators: grade in math, grade in language, average of math and language grades and overall grade point average.

After adjusting for fitness and fatness factors, the findings showed that cardiorespiratory capacity and motor ability were associated, both alone and combined, with all measures of academic performance. Although, motor ability was a bigger influence on academic performance than cardiorespiratory capacity.

Muscle strength was not associated with academic performance independent of cardiorespiratory capacity and motor ability.

The researchers observed that there were combined negative effects of low cardiorespiratory capacity and motor ability on academic performance in the high-risk group and the medium-risk group.

"Having high levels of cardiorespiratory and motor fitness may, to some extent, reduce the risk of school failure," Esteban-Cornejo said in a press statement.

"Greater confidence, a boost in self-esteem and an overall sense of wellbeing are just some of the benefits of performed motor movements and cardiovascular exercise," said Rusty Gregory, a personal trainer and wellness coach in Austin, Texas and author of "Self-Care Reform: How to Discover Your Own Path to Good Health."

"It is believed that the increase of oxygen to the brain, via aerobic exercise, will lead to improved cognition by creating new nerve cells and therefore, improved academic work. This study confirms that," Gregory told dailyRx News.

Esteban-Cornejo and colleagues recommended that efforts should be made to promote physical activities for children and teenagers that involve aerobic exercises and motor tasks to improve cardiorespiratory capacity and motor ability, thus improving academic development.

This study was limited because the data were cross-sectional, so the researchers could not determine a cause-and-effect relationship between physical fitness and academic performance. Also, the findings may not be generalizable outside of the study population.

This study was published on June 19 in The Journal of Pediatrics.

The National Plan for Research, Development and Innovation MICINN provided funding.

Review Date: 
June 19, 2014