Fitness and Academic Achievement
(Sallis et al., 1999). Although there were positive trends in the relationship, the intervention groups did not score significantly higher on academic standardized testing as a result of increased physical activity engagement. However, findings from this study have limited application as it was conducted in an already high- achieving, affluent school district.
Despite these initial efforts, future research is necessary to better determine the role that physical fitness has on academic performance. Most importantly, the potential influence of sociocultural variables, and poverty in particular, should be examined due to the relationship between these variables and both fitness and cog- nitive performance (Duncan, Duncan, Strycker, & Chaumeton, 2002; Mezzacappa, 2004). Additional research is needed to account for possible effects related to the administration of the Fitnessgram (and other field-based measures of fitness) and to ensure that students are properly familiarized with these tests, in order to improve the validity of the collected fitness data. Further, analyses in previous studies did not discriminate between muscular and aerobic fitness. As such, the data only provide for a general understanding of the relationship between physical fitness and academic achievement. A more refined approach, which examines the relative contribution of the different components of fitness (e.g., aerobic, muscular, and body composition) is of interest to better understand the potential influence of the various aspects of fitness on cognitive performance.
Other cognitive research has recently linked aerobic fitness to improvements in neuroelectric and behavioral performance of children during a stimulus discrimi- nation task (Hillman et al., 2005). The findings suggested that higher fit children exhibited greater allocation of attentional resources to working memory, supporting previous research examining fitness and cognition in adult populations (see Kramer & Hillman, 2006 for review). Further, Sibley and Etnier (2003) conducted a meta- analysis, which confirmed that a small but significant relationship between physical activity and cognitive performance existed in school-aged children. Their findings revealed that physical activity may be beneficial to cognitive health in children, with the largest effects found for IQ and academic achievement.
The present context of schools and public health issues make examination of this relationship timely, as federal mandates (e.g., No Child Left Behind) have increased pressure on administrators and teachers to produce students who achieve basic levels of competency in reading, mathematics, and science, through the pro- motion of equal opportunity for all economical levels. Standardized achievement tests are an inescapable fact of life in U.S. public education. Despite initiatives such as SPARK, the foci of the school curricula and after-school programs are on achievement in academics, rather than on public health issues, indicating low prioritization of health problems facing America’s youth.
Accordingly, the purpose of the present research was to investigate the rela- tionship between physical fitness and academic achievement among third- and fifth-grade students using a field test of fitness, which is routinely administered in physical education classes, and academic achievement on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT). Specifically, we conducted a detailed analysis of the rela- tionship between the components of physical fitness (e.g., aerobic capacity, muscle fitness, and body composition) and academic achievement (e.g., mathematics and reading) within schools that were selected based on several sociocultural variables. It was hypothesized that aerobic fitness would be most associated with academic