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education services were excluded from study analyses. Although it is understood that schools are inclusive, these children were excluded to account for potential cognitive deficits and the misunderstanding of testing protocols. Thus, these data may not extend to this population. Unfortunately, this study was unable to control for Shephard’s (1997) concern regarding student attitudes, which may be related to both physical fitness and academic performance. Specifically, no measure of student’s motivation for either the cognitive or physical fitness tests was collected. Therefore, student motivation remains a potential alternate explanation for these findings. Students who perform better in school and enjoy their schooling experience may be more likely to exert more effort on physical fitness and academic tests. This concern remains a viable explanation that should be accounted for in future attempts at understanding the relationship between fitness and academic performance.
Despite the contribution regarding the relationship of physical fitness to academic achievement, several limitations of the study warrant mention. First, as discussed, student motivation may account for a portion of the variance explained in the rela- tionship between physical fitness and academic performance. Second, the utilization of field-test measures of physical fitness, although administered by researchers, have a restricted evaluation of fitness in children. Other laboratory procedures, such as maximum oxygen consumption (e.g., VO2max), are more valid and reliable measures of aerobic fitness. However, a field test was chosen to examine the relationship between fitness and cognition in an externally valid setting, and allowed for a greater understanding of the relationship between the various components of fitness, rather than only aerobic fitness. Finally, the sample was not random, and therefore the findings from this study may not be generalizable to other populations.
In conclusion, this study confirms that physical fitness is generally associated with academic performance in elementary school children. Aerobic fitness and BMI were associated with achievement in reading and mathematics, whereas strength and flexibility fitness were unrelated to general academic achievement, reading, and mathematics. Continued research is needed to gain a more causal understand- ing of the relationship between physical fitness and cognition in children. Future research should address which parameters of physical fitness and activities obtain the greatest cognitive benefits, examine the effects of physical activity and fitness by cohorts, and investigate which moderators have the greatest impact on student cognition.
This research was supported by a University of Illinois Research Board grant to D. Castelli and C. Hillman.
American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). (2006). ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription (7th ed.) Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.