Research reviews

Relationship between physical activity, sport or fitness and cognitive testing or academic test results in children.

Terms

  • GPA: grade point average 
  • PA: physical activity.

Ahn & Fedewa, 2011 (Ahn & Fedewa, 2011) University of Miami, USA

Studies included

73 published and unpublished studies, totalling 246 effect sizes.

Methods/presentation of literature

Based on a literature review, a systematic coding scheme was developed to identify salient features of each study.

Results/conclusions

Results demonstrated varying effects depending on the methodology of the examined study [i.e., correlational vs. randomised controlled trial (RCT)/non-RCT] and characteristics of the participants, although overall effects of physical activity on children’s mental health were small but significant, indicating that on average physical activity led to improved mental health outcomes for all children.

Associations

+

Review limitations

Slight publication bias existed for the current analysis, which might threaten the validity of research findings in the current meta-analysis.

Esteban-Cornejo, Tejero-Gonzalez, Sallis, & Veiga, 2014 (Esteban-Cornejo, Tejero-Gonzalez, Sallis, & Veiga, 2014) University of Madrid, Madrid, Spain

Studies included

20 articles.

Methods/presentation of literature

Percentages were used to number the links.

Results/conclusions

The findings of these studies show that cognitive performance is associated with vigorous physical activity and that academic performance is related to general physical activity, but mainly in girls.
Results of the review also indicate that type of activity and some psychological factors (i.e., self-esteem, depression) could mediate the association between physical activity and academic performance.

Associations

+

Review limitations

Studies were not ranked or weighted, and as a result, findings from studies with weaker designs and smaller sample sizes were given no less importance than findings from studies with more rigorous research designs and larger sample sizes.

Howie & Pate, 2012, (Howie & Pate, 2012) University of South Carolina, Columbia,

Studies included

A brief review of studies.

Methods/presentation of literature

A total of 125 published articles were included and reviewed. Fifty-three of these articles were published in the past five years.

Results/conclusions

In recent years, the overall quality of the studies has increased, but the results continue to be inconsistent. Many use cross-sectional designs and the methods vary substantially. The majority of conclusions show a positive effect of PA on constructs related to academic achievement. Future studies should use strong study designs to examine the types and doses of PA needed to produce improvements in academic achievement.

Associations

+

Review limitations

To increase the breadth, the review included a wide range of published studies on PA and academics with less rigorous exclusion criteria than previous reviews. Inclusion criteria did not limit multiple publications from a single study, thus studies with multiple publications may have biased the results. Only studies published in peer-reviewed journals were included, excluding dissertations.

Kibbe et al., 2011, (Kibbe et al., 2011) The George Washington University, USA

Studies included

Review of the literature.

Methods/presentation of literature

Relevant studies identified using three different databases.

Results/conclusions

Children participating in the TAKE 10! program experience higher PA levels, reduced time-off-task, and improved reading, math, spelling and composite scores.

Associations

+

Review limitations

Focused solely on TAKE 10!

Rasberry et al., 2011  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, USA

Studies included

Findings of the 50 studies were summarised.

Methods/presentation of literature

Relevant research was identified through a search of nine electronic databases using both physical activity and academic-related search terms.

Results/conclusions

Results suggest physical activity is either positively related to academic performance or that there is not a demonstrated relationship between physical activity and academic performance.

Associations

+

Review limitations

Studies were not ranked, weighted, or grouped according to their strengths and limitations.

Trudeau and Shephard 2008, (Trudeau & Shephard, 2008) Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières

Studies included

  • Quasi-experimental: seven studies 
  • Correlation: 10 studies

Methods/presentation of literature

Tabulation and summary of studies identified from MEDLINE, PSYCHINFO, SCHOLAR.GOOGLE.COM and ERIC databases.

Results/conclusions

Quasi experimental data show: allocation of up to one hour a day of academic time to PA programs does not affect academic performance, additional emphasis on PE may results in small gains in GPA, relative increase in performance per unit of academic teaching time. 

Correlation data show: positive association between PA and academic performance, fitness not related to academic performance, PA positive impact on concentration, memory and classroom behaviour.

Associations

+

Review limitations

Difficult to draw conclusions with small number of intervention studies. 

Fedewa, A. L., & Ahn(Fedewa & Ahn, 2011) Department of Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology at University of Kentucky

Studies included

59 studies from 1947 to 2009 for analysis.

Methods/presentation of literature

Comprehensive, quantitative synthesis of the literature.

Results/conclusions

Results indicated a significant and positive effect of physical activity on children’s achievement and cognitive outcomes, with aerobic exercise having the greatest effect. A number of moderator variables were also found to play a significant role in this relationship.

Findings are discussed in light of improving children’s academic performance and changing school-based policy.

Associations

+

Review limitations

Future research would advance the body of literature in this area tremendously by explicitly defining the studied population and presenting data that would allow for ES calculations.

Lees, C., & Hopkins, J. (2013) (Lees & Hopkins, 2013)

Studies included

Eight relevant randomised control trials that met inclusion criteria.

Methods/presentation of literature

A systematic review.

Results/conclusions

Aerobic physical activity is positively associated with cognition, academic achievement, behaviour, and psychosocial functioning outcomes.

Associations

+

Review limitations

This study did not include either unpublished research findings or non-English studies, which may have resulted in the loss of relevant research. Publication bias may also have resulted in relevant studies (especially those demonstrating an equivocal outcome) not being published. 

Taras 2005, (Taras H, 2005)  University of California

Studies included

14 articles examining the association between PA in school aged children and academic performance identified.

Methods/presentation of literature

Description of previous studies presented in table form and discussed.

Results/conclusions

Physical activity may have some short term benefits on concentration. 

Associations

+

Review limitations

Review did not identify all studies in the relevant area. 

Sibley and Etnier 2003, (Sibley & Etnier, 2003)  Arizona State University

Studies included

16 studies using true experimental design were included in the analysis, seven of these were unpublished. 

Methods/presentation of literature

Studies were coded by design, subject characteristics, activity characteristics and cognitive assessment.

Results/conclusions

Significant positive relationship between PA and cognitive functioning in children. Effect size 0.32 which indicates that the group exposed to PA showed an improvement in cognition equivalent to 0.5 of a standard deviation. Results support that participation in PA leads to improvements in cognitive function. 

Associations

+

Review limitations

Results of meta-analysis are limited by the designs of the studies in the area. Seven studies were unpublished so may have not met publication review rigour.  

Tomporowski 2003, (Tomporowski P.D., 2003) University of Georgia

Studies included

Review of four research studies on youth without clinical disorder and 18 with clinical disorders.

Methods/presentation of literature

Description of findings of studies performed to assess acute effects of exercise on children’s and adolescents’ behaviour and cognition.

Results/conclusions

Acute bouts of PA exert short-term positive benefits on the behavioural and cognitive functioning of youths. 

Associations

+

Review limitations

Review based on mainly studies on youths with clinical disorders and focuses on acute bouts of activity. 

Shephard, 1997, (Shephard, 1997)  University of Toronto

Studies included

Review of four intervention projects.

Methods/presentation of literature

Description of previous intervention studies: methods, results, conclusions and limitations. 

Results/conclusions

Academic learning per unit of class time is enhanced in physically active children. 

Associations

+ (improved learning per unit of time)

Review limitations

Review limited to only interpretation of findings from four studies.