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Physical Activity Improves Kids’ Academic Performance

Children playing game outside schoolAccording to a new consensus statement published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, children perform better academically when they have access to physical activity at school. The article highlights research pointing to the cognitive and emotional benefits of regular exercise, suggesting physical activity is important even when it intrudes upon other academic activities.

How Physical Fitness Can Benefit Children

The 24 signatories to the statement developed their recommendations during an April meeting in Denmark. After reviewing the research on the effects of regular physical activity—which includes both structured activities, such as team sports and physical education programs, and unstructured activities, such as outdoor play—the team drafted the statement highlighting the benefits of physical activity.

Some highlights of the statement include:

  • Cardiovascular exercise and physical activity improve children’s brain and intellectual development.
  • Physical activity during, before, and after school can improve academic performance.
  • Goal-directed physical activities, such as team sports, promote life skills and social values such as respect for others.
  • Just one session of physical activity can have immediate positive effects on academic performance.
  • Taking time from academic pursuits to be physically active, as is the case with recess and other in-school activities, does not undermine good grades or academic development.
  • Exercise improves children’s heart and lung function, reducing their risk of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and coronary artery disease.
  • Exercise offers numerous psychological benefits, such as better stress management, assistance making friends, and increased self-esteem.

The statement also encourages increased access to parks and other recreational facilities as a way to promote physical activity. Another recent study suggested exercising after learning something new boosts memory and recall.

How Much Physical Activity Do Children Need?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day for children ages 6-17. Most of this activity should be in the form of aerobic exercise such as walking or running. Children should also perform muscle-strengthening activities, such as push-ups or gymnastics, and bone-strengthening activities, such as jumping rope, at least three days per week. The CDC places no upper limit on the amount of physical activity children need.


  1. Bangsbo, J., Krustrup, P., Duda, J., Hillman, C., Andersen, L. B., & Elbe, A. (2016). The Copenhagen Consensus Conference 2016: Children, youth, and physical activity in schools and during leisure time. British Journal of Sports Medicine. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-096325
  2. How much physical activity do children need? (2015, June 4). Retrieved from
  3. Physical activity boosts kids’ brain power and academic prowess. (2016, June 29). Retrieved from

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  • Leave a Comment
  • jackson

    July 5th, 2016 at 2:31 PM

    If we know without a shadow of a doubt that this is true, and it is true, then why do more and more schools each year continue to cut physical education? It makes no sense!

  • Holly

    July 6th, 2016 at 10:43 AM

    Even though there is finally the realization that kids at school need to be able to get up and move throughout the day, I still think that there are many schools that will push back because somewhere along the way it became all about the test scores. Even though the grades and scores all would likely go up if they let them have some more physical activity time, they see that as time away from instructions time.

  • Judith

    July 9th, 2016 at 8:51 AM

    Sadly kids do not go outside and play nearly as much as we did when we were children, or even like I made my own children do. I think that my own grandchildren seriously become one with the sofa over the summer because all they want to do is sit and play video games and watch movies. It is pretty sad considering how much fun there is to be had outside, but it is hard to compete anymore with the other things that they have at their fingertips all the time.

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