Research Shows Exercise Can Improve Academic Performance

Mother and son exercising outdoors togetherActive kids are used to hearing that they need to sit still and focus on school, and 40% of U.S. schools have cut or eliminated recess. In the wake of an academic climate that increasingly emphasizes quiet concentration, though, a new study has found that exercise may actually improve academic performance.

Exercise and Academics

We’ve all heard that exercise improves motor skills, respiratory capacity, and cardiovascular function, but the researchers who conducted a study published in The Journal of Pediatrics suspected that improving physical fitness could also improve academic performance. They looked at data on 2,038 Spanish children ranging in age from 6 to 18. By evaluating the children’s body composition and physical fitness, they were able to examine whether improved fitness also led to improved academic performance.

They found that cardiorespiratory capacity and strong motor skills were both correlated with improved academic performance. The correlation was much stronger for motor skills than cardiorespiratory capacity, though, suggesting that being active—rather than achieving a specific measure of physical fitness—improves academic performance. The study also found that children with low levels of physical activity had lower grades, and that muscle strength was not a good predictor of grades.

Other Brain Benefits of Exercise

Research has long shown that exercise doesn’t just lead to weight loss and muscle development; it’s also good for the brain. Even if you’ve been out of school for years, you can still see some serious brain improvements with regular exercise. Research has previously shown that:

  • Exercise can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and some studies have even shown that exercise is as effective as an antidepressant.
  • Exercise can help reverse the damaging effects stress has on the body.
  • Exercise gives a temporary sense of euphoria that can help lift a bad mood.
  • Regular exercise can help improve body image and self-esteem, even if you don’t meet your weight loss goals.
  • Exercise can help regulate your sleep cycle, and may even help people who struggle with insomnia.


  1. Elsevier Health Sciences. (2014, June 19). Improving academic performance with physical fitness. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 23, 2014 from
  2. Kotz, D., & Haupt, A. (2012, March 7). 7 mind-blowing benefits of exercise. Retrieved from
  3. Millner, D. (2012, April 3). Why kids need recess and exercise. Retrieved from
  4. Why strength training? (n.d.). Retrieved from

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  • susie


    June 25th, 2014 at 1:20 PM

    I am a believer! My children all need time to run around and play before they can sit down and focus on anything. I am okay with that because I am a person with a lot of nervous energy too and when I don;t have the chance to work all of that out, I am a nervous wreck. maybe it would be easier for them if they weren’t like me in that respect but at the same time it keeps them active and who can complain about that?

  • Cynthia


    June 25th, 2014 at 2:46 PM

    Until I began exercising several years ago I always thought (or at least gave the excuse) that I was too tired to go for a walk or to do anything active after work. I made myself start though and now a day without exercise is definitely a day with no energy and focus for me. I plan my day around getting in my workout because I know that even though I may not want to do it I have never once regretted getting that exercise in whereas I always regret when I skip. I don’t know, there is something about it that makes me calm, gives me focus and actually gives me more energy than when I started. It is kind of addictive, but for me in a good way because I definitely needed that little extra motivation to force me to do it long enough to make it habit forming.

  • sandra


    June 26th, 2014 at 4:18 AM

    It’s like this- I have heard a lot about exercise, and rarely is it that it can do anything bad for you.

  • JustiN


    June 26th, 2014 at 10:41 AM

    I feel pretty good about myself and my performance when I don’t exercise and I have always done well academically so I do get into this pattern at times that tells me that I don’t really need to waste my time on all of this, that I will be just fine with out it. But I know that this is just talking myself into being lazy and giving myself an excuse to not be active. If you want to know the truth, I am ok without it but even better with it. I don’t think that there is a person out there who could or would deny that. It is hard somedays to put one foot in front of the other and get it done, but it is very much for the best when you do.

  • Erin


    June 29th, 2014 at 10:45 AM

    I have noticed a big difference in how much better I sleep since I have added a daily walk to my routine. Before I started that I would wake up several times each night and it would always be such a chore to try to go back to sleep. I think that the walks, no matter that they are only about 30 minutes long, are helping me make some big improveemnts in that area. Its not like I have lost a ton of weight or anything like that, but I can just tell a difference in how I feel, for the better! And I no longer have to take something to even try to help me get to sleep. This has been the answer for me of a big problem I have been dealing with for a long time.

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