Castelli, Hillman, Buck, and Erwin
Educational and health professionals have intuitively believed that individu- als who are physically active and fit perform better in school. Several studies have documented a positive relationship between physical fitness and academic achieve- ment or other cognitive performance measures (California Department of Education [CDE], 2001; Maynard, Coonan, Worsley, Dwyer, & Baghurst, 1987; Shephard et al., 1984; Shephard, LaVallee, Volle, LaBarre, & Beaucage, 1994), whereas other studies have observed small (Daley, & Ryan, 2000; Dwyer, Coonan, Leitch, Hetzel, & Baghurst, 1983) or negative relationships (Tremblay, Inman, & Williams, 2000). Additionally, physical activity has been positively associated with cognition (Sibley & Etnier, 2003; Coe, Pivarnik, Womack, Reeves, & Malina, 2006; Shephard, 1997; Tomporowski, 2003). Beyond the educational setting, measures of standardized testing or grades are representative of cognitive functioning, which has also been associated with physical fitness (Etnier et al., 1997; Hillman, Castelli, & Buck, 2005). Despite these positive associations, not all research has supported this con- clusion (Tremblay et al., 2000), thus warranting further examination.
A research study conducted by the CDE (2001) attempted to identify the relationship between physical fitness and academic achievement. In this study, reading and mathematics scores from the Stanford Achievement Test were indi- vidually matched with the fitness scores (Fitnessgram; Cooper Institute for Aerobic Research, 1999) of 353,000 fifth graders, 322,000 seventh graders, and 279,000 ninth graders. A positive relationship was observed between physical fitness and the Stanford Achievement Test across all three grade levels, such that higher levels of fitness were associated with higher academic achievement. Similar research conducted in a school setting by Coe et al. (2006) extended the findings of CDE (2001) because they observed a positive relationship between vigorous physical activity and higher grades in school.
The Sports, Play, Active Recreation for Kids (SPARK) program, enacted in a single school district, was intended to increase levels of physical activity engagement to improve health-related fitness, motor skills, and enjoyment. The curriculum required classes to be taught a minimum of three days per week for an entire school year. A typical lesson was 30 min and contained both health-related fitness activity and skill activity. The curriculum also delivered self-management content intended to teach the students strategies for behavioral change. A study by McKenzie, Sallis, Faucette, Roby, and Kolody (1993) compared the effects of professional development on implementation of the comprehensive program for three different conditions: (a) physical education (taught by specialists), (b) ele- mentary classroom (taught by classroom teachers trained in providing effective, age-appropriate physical activity), and (c) control (physical activity provided by elementary school classroom teachers without training). It was concluded that stu- dents in the intervention groups had substantially more opportunities to be physically active. A follow-up study (McKenzie, Sallis, Kolody, & Faucette, 1997) confirmed the initial findings, suggesting that professional development can help physical education specialists and classroom teachers increase physical activity and fitness in children. During participation in the SPARK intervention, measures of academic achievement—the Metropolitan Achievement Tests (MAT6 and MAT7)—were collected for comparison across the three conditions. The most valuable finding from this study was that taking time away from academic courses and replacing it with physical education curricula did not adversely affect academic performance