Physical fitness linked to academic prowess in kids

I don’t have time to read or post much these days, so I’ll do the commenting equivalent of a drive-by and toss something I grabbed from my feed-reader out there.
A study of Massachusetts teens (summary) demonstrates that students who score higher on tests of physical fitness also score better on standardized tests of academic achievement.
Exercise fans might be quick to point out that personal experience suggests that mental clarity is enhanced by regular physical activity and that as result such a finding is not unexpected. I’m inclined to think that kids with the luxury of participating in organized sports and thus exercising regularly are also those from higher-income, more stable homes and that SES thus drives this relationship more than anything else.
In fact, the researchers accounted for SES, but only in a binary and unsatisfying fashion–kids were classified as either eligible for the national school-lunch program or ineligible. Somewhat similarly, the assessment of physical fitness used a test with “pass/fail” scores in five areas and thus similarly low-to-absent gradations, although I can’t really think of a better metric.
The authors themselves also admit that because this was a cross-sectional study, there’s no way to determine whether fitness was more driven by academic achievement or the reverse, or if an additional factor or factors was primarily responsible for the correlation. That’s scientific longhand for “interesting, but as for why, who the fuck knows?”
I’m not knocking the way the authors went about this or the hypothesis that exercise (a prerequisite in many cases–though not so much so in teens–for “fitness”) can help bolster academic achievement, not only through cognitive enhancement but through differences in peer association, time management, yidda yaddo yoo. I do believe, however, that some sort of interventional study would be required to demonstrate this conclusively, and that this study tends to merely highlight what we already know,

  1. #1 by Jim Fiore on January 29, 2009 - 3:39 pm

    It has been my observation that kids who run cross-country tend to have higher grades and are more likely to be honor students than the average student (or even participants of particular popular sports such as football). I have no idea if this is causal. It may be simply that people who think in terms of putting in the work now to reap rewards later naturally excel at both (because it’s a requisite strategy). Of course, it might also be that as they were either not interested in or not good enough for the “popular sports”, they simply had far less distraction and time investment in the area of dating.

  2. #2 by catgirl on January 30, 2009 - 11:59 am

    This is interesting because I always got good grades in school, but was never athletic. Very often, gym class was the only thing that kept me off the honor roll. The same was true for a lot of other people I knew, in both high school and college. I guess this study goes against the stereotypical view of ‘nerds’ as being unathletic.

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