Physical Fitness in Children Associated with Higher Test Scores
Over the years several studies have linked physical fitness with academic performance in children and adolescents. A new report presented at the American Heart Associations’ 2010 Conference on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism brings more weight to the positive influence of physical exercise on scholastic achievements.
Lesley A. Cottrell, PhD, presenting author of the study and associate professor of pediatrics at West Virginia University, and colleagues analyzed BMI percentiles, fitness levels and standardized academic test scores of 725 fifth grade students in Wood County, WV. Two years later, the students were divided into four groups based on their physical fitness level as compared with their abilities at the beginning of the study.
Children who had the best average scores on standardized tests in reading, math, science, and social studies were at a high level of fitness at the beginning of the study and remained so into the seventh grade. The next best group academically was those who were not fit in the fifth grade, but had improved over the course of the two years. Those who remained unfit throughout the study had the worst overall test scores.
"The take-home message from this study is that we want our kids to be fit as long as possible and it will show in their academic performance," Cottrell said. "But if we can intervene on those children who are not necessarily fit and get them to physically fit levels, we may also see their academic performance increase."
The American Heart Association recommends that children and adolescents should do 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily and they participate in physical activities that are appropriate for their age and enjoyable.
While this study tracked students over time, another recent study compared fitness levels with academic test scores at a specific point in a student’s life, but found a similar association between fitness and test scores.
Researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles tested middle and high school students on fitness level by having them compete in a 1 mile run/walk test. Those who exceeded the fitness standards for age and gender also scored higher on standardized tests. Each minute slower on the fitness test represented a corresponding drop in test scores. The study was published in the January 2010 issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.