Physical activity and performance at school: a systematic review of the literature including a methodological quality assessment

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012 Jan;166(1):49-55. doi: 10.1001/archpediatrics.2011.716.


Objective: To describe the prospective relationship between physical activity and academic performance.

Data sources: Prospective studies were identified from searches in PubMed, PsycINFO, Cochrane Central, and Sportdiscus from 1990 through 2010.

Study selection: We screened the titles and abstracts for eligibility, rated the methodological quality of the studies, and extracted data.

Main exposure: Studies had to report at least 1 physical activity or physical fitness measurement during childhood or adolescence.

Main outcome measures: Studies had to report at least 1 academic performance or cognition measure during childhood or adolescence.

Results: We identified 10 observational and 4 intervention studies. The quality score of the studies ranged from 22% to 75%. Two studies were scored as high quality. Methodological quality scores were particularly low for the reliability and validity of the measurement instruments. Based on the results of the best-evidence synthesis, we found evidence of a significant longitudinal positive relationship between physical activity and academic performance.

Conclusions: Participation in physical activity is positively related to academic performance in children. Because we found only 2 high-quality studies, future high-quality studies are needed to confirm our findings. These studies should thoroughly examine the dose-response relationship between physical activity and academic performance as well as explanatory mechanisms for this relationship.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Achievement*
  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Cognition*
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Physical Fitness / psychology*
  • Schools