How Does Physical Activity Improve School Performance?

Students at all academic levels and grades can struggle with school performance. While some perform well on tests, others struggle and yet others are excellent students without much effort studying. Some elements of the school day can play a role in more positive school experiences and increased academic performance including time for recess and physical activity throughout the day. When children and teens are forced to sit for long periods of time without breaks it can build stress, anxiety and disrupt the learning process. Learn why physical activity is important for youth and how it impacts learning.



The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and various academic institutions have conducted research which demonstrates the positive impact of physical activity on student’s cognitive abilities, attitudes towards learning and overall academic behavior. Enhanced concentration and attention are important markers of school performance. Physical activity is one way to bridge the gap between learning disparities and improved grades.


Cutting Back

One of the ways schools have created more room for rigorous academics and increased testing is by cutting back on physical education and recess. The belief exists more classroom time will stimulate student learning which has not been backed by scientific research of late. Exercise positively impacts behavior and brain development at all ages, particularly for growing minds and bodies. Developmentally, children need play, exercise and physical activity to develop learning necessary for life skills, social emotional learning and positive academic performance.


Positive Benefits

Executive functioning in the brain is positively impacted by physical activity. When young people move physically, the brain activates in certain areas which kicks in a neural mapping mechanism. New pathways are created to enhance the learning experience. Some additional positive benefits also include:


  • Increased oxygen flow to the brain
  • Increased presence of neurotransmitters in the brain
  • Neurotrophins increase which support survival of neurons in areas of the brain responsible for learning, memory and higher level thinking


Making Changes

Students also benefit in larger ways academically through lower dropout rates and a sense of social cohesion with peers and the community at large through sports and physical education initiatives. Youth who are involved in afterschool sports programs are less likely to be involved with gangs or drugs due to social pressure to remain focused on positive goals. Administrators can implement changes by increasing the amount of time physical education is taught in school while also creating space for recess in the school day once again. All students deserve a quality education and engagement with better life choices which provide opportunities to excel.

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