On April 14, 2010 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a comprehensive review titled “The Association of School-Based Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance.” This review systematically analyzed 50 unique studies conducted between 1985 and present that linked physical activity and academic performance. The following are highlights of the CDC review (specific to physical activity in the classroom), which is the heart and foundation of Stackademics.
CLASSROOM PHYSICAL ACTIVITY STUDIES
Nine studies (reported in 9 articles) explored physical activity that occurred in classrooms apart from physical education classes and recess. In general, these studies explored short physical activity breaks (5–20 minutes) or ways to introduce physical activity into learning activities that were either designed to promote learning through physical activity or provide students with a pure physical activity break. These studies examined how the introduction of brief physical activities in a classroom setting affected cognitive skills (aptitude, attention, memory) and attitudes (mood); academic behaviors (on-task behavior, concentration); and academic achievement (standardized test scores, reading literacy scores, or math fluency scores).
CLASSROOM-BASED PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
Movement activities and physical activity breaks are simple ways for classroom teachers to enhance student physical activity and possibly academic performance. Most interventions described in this review used short breaks (5–20 minutes) that required little or no teacher preparation, special equipment, or resources. As an example, interventions such as speed (cup) stacking could be a center or activity station.Simple movement-based learning techniques (e.g., walking around the perimeter of the classroom while learning vocabulary or using music and rhythmic movement to enhance memory tasks) could be incorporated into large group lessons. Short exercise breaks (e.g., 5 minutes of walking or 10 minutes of prescribed exercise) could be introduced into the classroom routine prior to teaching subjects that require intense student concentration.
HOW PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AFFECTS THE BRAIN
- Cerebral capillary growth;
- Blood flow;
- Production of neurotrophins;
- Growth of nerve cells in the hippocampus (center of learning and memory);
- Neurotransmitter levels;
- Development of nerve connections;
- Density of neural network;
- Brain tissue volume.
These physiological changes may be associated with:
- Improved attention;
- Improved information processing, storage, and retrieval;
- Enhanced coping;
- Enhanced positive affect;
- Reduced sensations of cravings and pain.
What kinds of academic outcomes were positively related to physical activity?Studies looked at a broad range of outcomes. Researchers reported that participating in physical activity was positively related to outcomes including academic achievement, academic behaviors, and indicators of cognitive skills and attitudes, such as concentration, memory, self-esteem, and verbal skills.
“Uhrich and Swalm found that daily sessions to develop motor skills (bimanual coordination) through a sport cup- stacking exercise were associated with improvements in reading comprehension…”
How can schools promote physical activity at school? Physical activity can be included in the school environment in a number of ways without detracting from academic performance. Studies highlight potential benefits of physical activity in physical education classes, during recess, in regular classrooms, and through extracurricular sports and other physical activity opportunities.
IMPLICATIONS FOR POLICY
- There is substantial evidence that physical activity can help improve academic achievement (including grades and standardized test scores).
- Increasing or maintaining time dedicated to physical education may help, and does not appear to adversely impact, academic performance.
- Taking all of the evidence into account, schools should strive to meet the National Association for Sport and Physical Education’s recommendation of daily physical education and offer students a balanced academic program that includes opportunities for a variety of daily physical activities.
“The articles in this review suggest that physical activity can have an impact on cognitive skills and attitudes and academic behavior, all of which are important components of improved academic performance. These include enhanced concentration and attention as well as improved classroom behavior.