School Performance and Physical Activity

My kid is wearing a FitBit.  My wife never wore it and my daughter wanted to wear it.  Well, why not?  I’m so glad we did, because we as parents are learning tons about my daughter’s Sleep duration, and activity level.  Emily has always had some issues with sleep, and we’re working with her constantly to get a sleep routine, and establish a solid about 10 hours of sleep, which is recommended for her age group.  But what was really surprising is the amount of steps that Emily was getting throughout the school day.  On average, she was only getting about 4000-5000 during the school day (which is about 8 hrs plus).  Even during physical education days (3 times a week) she would not even hit 6000 steps!

I was shocked.  National guidelines recommend 60 minutes of play a day, from the CDC and the AHA.  But where does this come from?  So, here’s this blog to show the research on physical activity and school performance.


We all know the beneficial effects of physical activity on health, but what about school performance?  There are numerous studies linking physical activity to school performance.  Probably the best study was performed by the Centers of Disease Control. Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 3.58.32 PM

This was a systematic review of just randomized trials.  Bottom line, physical activity likely improves school performance.  The SR looked at 8 studies and showed improvements.  But what is the “dose” and what “type” of physical activity is optimal?  Let’s see what we can glean from the literature.

  1. 100 minutes of moderate-vigorous activity increased rates of testing scores at 3 years vs. controls.
  2. 30 minutes, 3 times  a week led to 1200 more steps on average per day, and 3600 more per week increased performance on intelligence testing compared to controls.
  3. Aerobic exercise 20 minutes 3 times a week — 4th graders reported less depression and greater self-esteem compared to controls.
  4. 10-15 minutes a day for one week in classroom activity showed improved cognitive performance.
  5. 60 minutes a day of aerobic exercise improved academic performance–but with small effect size.
  6. running 30 minutes three times a week improved creative capacity.

So what I can guess, is that the 60 minutes is a good benchmark but just one RCT supports 60minutes.  But it looks like 90-100 minutes a week should be the minimum dose but up to 60 minutes could maximize benefits.


Overall, national guidelines recommend 60 minutes a day of activity for children.  But what is the school’s responsibility, since most of the hours of the day are spent at school?  Is is just the parents responsibility to provide the 60 minutes?  Let’s look at the Institute of Medicine report:  Educating the Student Body: Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School.

They recommend:

“To set the tone, schools—backed up by district policies and supported by administrators and parents — should provide access to at least 60 minutes per day of vigorous or moderate-intensity physical activity, more than half of which should be accomplished during regular school hours.”

Bottom Line: more than 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week would be what the school should provide during school hours.  And this doesn’t mean that it should be done just at recess or at PE.  Teachers should be encouraged to provide it during breaks at classroom activities.

Check out this IOM research tool page to get those 60 minutes:

School districts should provide high-quality curricular physical education for a set minimum number of minutes per day or week, depending on scheduling (30 min/day or 150 min/week for elementary students and 45 min/day or 225 min/week for middle and high school students).

The American Heart Association also has great resources for activity.  Click here for the resource page.

Finally, another great resource for educators:

With these two strategies, high quality physical education 30-45 a day for 150-225 minutes per week, plus recess time should make getting 60 minutes much easier for all.

Best of all, it will improve health and school performance!







Posted on February 13, 2016, in Exercise, Fitness and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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