Physical fitness in childhood and adolescence is beneficial for both physical and mental health throughout the lifespan. Cardiac output, lung capacity, muscular strength, and motor ability are all components of physical fitness (Elsevier, 2014). Each of these components has documented potential to affect the brain in positive ways, therefore, improving academic performance. In fact, improvement in holistic health, including behavioral health and socialization is well documented and supported.
In discussing the academic effects of physical activity, it is found that changes in cognitive functioning are related to stimulating brain development. Increases in blood flow in the brain and increased levels of arousal are two ways this occurs. The brain seems to benefit from increased energy of physical exercise and students enjoy a break also from the mundane sedentary class work. Research shows middle school students in the best physical shape outscore their classmates on standardized tests, and their report cards are better overall. Some well-designed studies have found a positive relationship between increased physical activity and concentration (Anderson, 2016).

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Children with poor motor performance upon entering school were found to lack the reading and arithmetic skills of their peers with good motor performance. Performing physical activities requires concentration and discipline on the part of the learner (Anderson, 2016).

Aside from the obvious cognitive benefits of physical fitness, several studies have shown based physical activity programs can effectively improve behavior. Physical activity positively enhances self-confidence and self-esteem. Physical activity through participation in sports develops friendships and encourages socialization.

Enjoyment experienced during physical activity and youth sports programs help to reinforce self-esteem, which, leads to enhanced motivation to further participate. Emphasis on the fun during the activity is important. A variety of studies suggests that physical activity is associated with enhanced mood and affect. Personal success provides the motivation towards mastery while helping to determine positive perceptions. Goal setting is enhanced through the participation in physical activity. (Katz, 2010)

Physical activity assures psychological well-being and lifelong lessons for a healthy lifestyle. Emotional wellbeing that includes mental health, positive self-concept, coping skills, conflict resolution skills, autonomy, moral character, and confidence are all enhanced through physical activity. (Katz, 2010)

Youth sports should emphasize fun. In doing so, physical, psychological, and social development for its participants is enhanced. Research supports that a child who engages in physical activity is more apt to have a positive well – being on into adulthood. This is due in part to development and maintenance of good habits. Life skills are found to be developed through sports participation (Michigan State University, 2012). Leadership is one of the life skills that develop through team participation. Overall performance is developed through game preparation through practices, warm up routines, etc. The development, cooperation, teamwork, empathy and a sense of personal responsibility are positive attributes of team sports. Adolescents who participate in school sports feel more comfortable and safer in the school environment. Mentally tough athletes exhibit internal motivation to be successful and the ability to be able to maintain composure under pressure.

Research has found that participation in school sports provides greater unity among the student and the family. Parents are often seen at sporting events cheering their child on and encouraging their best performance. Sometimes, however, the presence of parents at a school sporting event is seen to have a negative impact on the child. The child may feel too much pressure to perform without fault, and therefore, relationships may be damaged or self-esteem of the child may be lowered. It is very important for parents to keep in perspective what the sporting events are for and not to have high expectations of a professional event.

Average physical fitness levels of children in the United States has declined in recent years. This decline is seen despite well – supported research that physical activity has many benefits for children. The No Child Left Behind Act has forced schools in the United States to push back physical activity, and promote academic activity (Pereira, 2016).). There is a need for school and community organizations to promote and facilitate physical activity. Based on the many positive benefits of sports, physical activity and sports recreation should be an integral part of children’s lives. It has been quoted that “a healthy body leads to a healthy mind”. There is a need for further research into the relationships between physical activity and cognitive outcomes. There is also a need for research that differentiates between specific activities and teaching strategies. Some studies suggest that physical fitness reduces medication use and preserves class time for teaching while improving overall academic performance.

All claims for educational benefits can – and should – be supported and then tested through research, especially where children are involved. Future research will hopefully provide further insight on the specifics concerning the correlation between participation in sports and the overall academic and social functioning.

  • Andersen, M., Mortensen, R., Vardinghus-Nielsen, H.  Association Between Physical Fitness and Academic Achievement in a Cohort of Danish School Pupils (2016) Journal of School Health
  • Elsevier Health Sciences. (2014, June 19). Improving academic performance with physical fitness. Science Daily. Retrieved September 25, 2016 from
  • Katz, D., Cushman, D., Reynolds, J., Njike, V., Treu, J. A., Katz, C., Smith, E. (2010). Putting Physical Activity Where It Fits in the School Day: Preliminary Results of the ABC (Activity Bursts in the Classroom) for Fitness Program. Preventing Chronic Disease, 7(4), A82.
  • Michigan State University. (2012, December 6). Fit kids finish first in the classroom. Science Daily. Retrieved September 25, 2016 from
  • Pereira, J., Araújo, R., Farias, C., Bessa, C., Mesquita, I., (2016) Sport Education and Direct Instruction Units: Comparison of Student Knowledge Development in Athletics. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (15), 569 – 577.