A Dutch review of prior research reveals that the more physically active school-aged children are, the better they fare in the classroom.
Most of the studies in the review had been conducted in the United States, while one came out of Canada and the other out of South Africa.
The findings are published in an issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
"We found strong evidence of a significant positive relationship between physical activity and academic performance," the researchers, led by Amika Singh of the Vrije Universiteit University Medical Center at the EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, said in a journal news release.
"The findings of one high-quality intervention study and one high-quality observational study suggest that being more physically active is positively related to improved academic performance in children," the authors noted.
Fourteen studies were analyzed; they ranged in size from about 50 participants to as many as 12 000 and involved children between the ages of six and 18.
The investigators noted that increases in blood and oxygen flow to the brain that accompanies exercise may play a role in improving classroom performance. The suggestion is that the dynamic prompts an increase in levels of hormones responsible for curtailing stress and boosting mood, while at the same time prompting the establishment of new nerve cells and synapse flexibility.
The Dutch team cautioned, however, that more rigorous work is needed to confirm the connection.
"Relatively few studies of high methodological quality have explored the relationship between physical activity and academic performance," they acknowledged. "More high-quality studies are needed on the dose-response relationship between physical activity and academic performance and on the explanatory mechanisms, using reliable and valid measurement instruments to assess this relationship accurately."
(HealthDay News, January 2012)