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The link between cardio fitness and academic performance

Posted in Youth

Young people who are physically fit also perform better academically, a recent study has revealed.

Regular physical exercise has long been recognized as vital for the mental and physical health of young people1, but there is increasing evidence to indicate that cardio activity also plays an important role when it comes to learning. These findings could prove invaluable for educators and fitness professionals working alongside children and teenagers to inspire a lifelong love of physical activity.

A research paper recently published online in the Journal of Pediatrics2 examined the relationship between various types of physical activity and academic performance. The cardiovascular fitness, motor ability, and muscular strength of over 2000 young people were tested in the study, with academic performance across four indicators (including math and language) also assessed. 

Having high levels of cardio-respiratory and motor fitness may, to some extent, reduce the risk of school failure.

Irene Esteban-Cornejo

A total of 2038 youths in Spain (aged six-18 years) had their cardio-respiratory capacity measured using a 20m shuttle run test; their motor ability was assessed with the 4×10m shuttle run test of speed of movement, agility, and coordination. Muscular strength was assessed by handgrip strength and standing long jump distance.

Both the combined and the individual influences of the three components of physical activity were measured.

One of the authors of the study, Irene Esteban-Cornejo from the Autonomous University of Madrid, says that this was important as it allowed the different components to be more rigorously examined. 

"Because these physical fitness components are highly associated with each other, it is important to differentiate which physical fitness components are important in relation to academic performance," she explains.

The research established a relationship between cardio-respiratory capacity and motor activity (combined and individually) and academic achievement.

Young people with the best results for speed, agility and coordination showed more likelihood of better academic performance. Muscular strength, on the other hand, was not shown to have any effect of grades, and those with lower levels of fitness or dexterity showed lower academic achievement.

Esteban-Cornejo said in a Daily Mail article that it was important that efforts were to improve the physical activity of young people in an attempt to improve their grades. “Having high levels of cardio-respiratory and motor fitness may, to some extent, reduce the risk of school failure,” she said. 

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