Effects of Physical Activity on Academic Performance

by Donald Deblock, NP

Did you know that you could dance your way to better grades? Or run, or swim, or bike? There is a growing body of evidence from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign showing us that increased physical activity has a pronounced positive effect on not only health overall but on academic performance. The ancient theory of “mens sana in corpore sano” or a sound mind in a healthy body had become the object of recent ground breaking research in the field of cognitive development and how our activity level is directly correlated.

This same research indicates that children and young adults engaging in academic pursuits are more able to concentrate, focus, and constructively participate in classroom responsibilities immediately after performing physical exercise. Over time as these students involved themselves in moderate and consistent exercise programs, both organized and unstructured, irrefutable and astonishing effects specifically in the areas of reading comprehension, creative writing and mathematical computations were recorded. Several of these studies suggest that the more vigorous programs of exercise may have had a higher level of effect.

Additionally, improvement was shown even after just a single session of exercise. The ability to pay attention to lectures, remember class content, and process information were all increased in the majority of subjects observed. Brain images were taken on these volunteers after just 20 minutes of walking at a perceived moderate pace and a dramatic increase in neural activity during testing was readily apparent. In this same review, students showed improvement in the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test by an average of 20 points when tested post exercise in comparison to pre exercise results.