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Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 2007, 29, 239-252 © 2007 Human Kinetics, Inc.

Physical Fitness and Academic Achievement in Third- and Fifth-Grade Students

Darla M. Castelli, Charles H. Hillman, Sarah M. Buck, and Heather E. Erwin

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The relationship between physical fitness and academic achievement has received much attention owing to the increasing prevalence of children who are overweight and unfit, as well as the inescapable pressure on schools to produce students who meet academic standards. This study examined 259 public school students in third and fifth grades and found that field tests of physical fitness were positively related to academic achievement. Specifically, aerobic capacity was positively associated with achievement, whereas BMI was inversely related. Associations were demonstrated in total academic achievement, mathematics achievement, and reading achievement, thus suggesting that aspects of physical fitness may be globally related to academic performance in preadolescents. The findings are discussed with regards to maximizing school performance and the implications for educational policies.

Key ords: cognition, preadolescent, exercise, standardized testing

Physical inactivity among youth and its relation to heightened incidences of dis- ease, such as childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus, has become a national health concern (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [USDHHS], 2000). Nearly half of young people, ages 12–21, are not vigorously active on a regular basis (USDHHS, 2000), yet physical activity poses a wealth of benefits to those who participate regularly (e.g., in the areas of adiposity, mental health, musculoskeletal health; Strong et al., 2005). In general, the training effects associated with increased physical activity in children are considered small but positive (Payne & Morrow, 1993), with the benefits outweighing the potential risks. Of greater importance might be the indirect relationship of childhood activity behaviors tracking into adulthood (Janz, Dawson, & Mahoney, 2000), potentially limiting the prevalence of risk factors related to cardiovascular disease in later life. Despite consensus of the positive effects related to physical activity and fitness (Strong et al., 2005), the benefits to cognitive health and the educational experience remain unclear.

The authors are with the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL.


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