The association between school-based physical activity, including physical education, and academic performance: a systematic review of the literature

Prev Med. 2011 Jun;52 Suppl 1:S10-20. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2011.01.027. Epub 2011 Feb 1.


Objective: The purpose of this review is to synthesize the scientific literature that has examined the association between school-based physical activity (including physical education) and academic performance (including indicators of cognitive skills and attitudes, academic behaviors, and academic achievement).

Method: Relevant research was identified through a search of nine electronic databases using both physical activity and academic-related search terms. Forty-three articles (reporting a total of 50 unique studies) met the inclusion criteria and were read, abstracted, and coded for this synthesis. Findings of the 50 studies were then summarized.

Results: Across all the studies, there were a total of 251 associations between physical activity and academic performance, representing measures of academic achievement, academic behavior, and cognitive skills and attitudes. Slightly more than half (50.5%) of all associations examined were positive, 48% were not significant, and 1.5% were negative. Examination of the findings by each physical activity context provides insights regarding specific relationships.

Conclusion: 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. Results have important implications for both policy and schools.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior
  • Attitude
  • Child
  • Child Behavior
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Educational Measurement
  • Educational Status*
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Physical Education and Training
  • Schools
  • Sports / psychology