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Fit Kids Do Better in School

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album
Reviewed by Linda Bobroff, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

With teen and childhood obesity rates at record highs and growing awareness of the many benefits of physical fitness, there seems to be a new reason every day to make sure children stay active. Still, it can be hard to find the time for kids to get the exercise they need.

A new study in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness offers yet more motivation to make sure your children stay active and fit.

Researchers measured the physical fitness of over 300 middle-schoolers, looking at their endurance, strength, and flexibility. They also obtained students’ grades in four core classes and their scores on a standardized test.

Students with the highest physical fitness levels had better class grades and scored higher on the tests than those who weren’t as fit. This was true for both boys and girls, regardless of whether or not they had reached puberty. Interestingly, body fatness didn’t seem to matter—only their level of fitness.

Although it isn’t entirely clear why fitness would be associated with better academic performance, the researchers put forth several theories. Physical activity may cause physiological changes that allow for more learning, or the “increased concentration and attention span” (Coe et al., 2012, p. 658) associated with high levels of physical activity may result in improved performance.

Although this study was relatively small and didn’t control for all possible explanations for these effects, these findings point to yet another reason to keep our kids active and fit.

(Photo credit: UF/IFAS file photo.)


 Coe, D.P., Pivarnick, J. M., Womack, C. J., Reeves, M. J., Malina, R. M. (2012). Health-related fitness and academic achievement in middle-school students. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 52, 654-660.


(Originally published in a slightly different form as: Church, C. (2012). Fit kids do better in school. [Radio broadcast episode]. Family Album Radio. Gainesville, FL:  University of Florida.)