WVU researcher finds link between students’ fitness and grades

Report presented at American Heart Association national meeting

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Physical fitness is associated with academic performance in young people, according to a study conducted by a West Virginia University researcher.  Lesley Cottrell, Ph.D., said the study suggests that focusing more on physical fitness and physical education in school would result in healthier, happier and smarter children.

“As children’s health continues to be a concern – especially when it comes to obesity – some have suggested that children’s physical fitness is associated with their academic performance,” Cottrell, an associate professor of pediatrics at WVU, said. “The research, however, had not been developed enough to define the nature of that relationship.”

To study the association, Cottrell and colleagues examined the body mass index percentiles, fitness levels and standardized academic test scores of 725 fifth grade students in Wood County.

The researchers focused more on fitness levels than the children’s weight, and then compared that data to students’ fitness and academic performance two years later in seventh grade.

Researchers found that the children who had the best average test scores in reading, math, science and social studies were fit at the start and end of the study. The next best group academically in all four subjects was made up of children who were not fit in fifth grade but had become fit by seventh grade.

Those who lost their fitness level between grades five and seven were third in academic performance. The lowest academic performance came from those who were not fit in either fifth or seventh grades.

Cottrell said the findings suggest that children and adolescents should participate in at least 60 minutes each day of enjoyable physical activity appropriate for their age.

“The take-home message from this study is that we want our kids to be fit as long as possible, and it will show in their academic performance,” Cottrell said. “If we can intervene for those children who are not necessarily fit and get them to fit levels, we may also see their academic performance increase.”

Cottrell presented the research report at the American Heart Association’s 2010 Conference on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism in San Francisco this week.

For more information on pediatric research at WVU, see www.hsc.wvu.edu/som/Pediatrics/Research/Default.aspx.

For more information on the American Heart Association see www.heart.org.

Photo caption: Lesley Cottrell, Ph.D., West Virginia University School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics


For more information:
Angela Jones, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087
asj: 02-25-10

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