Physical Activity and Academic Success

As mentioned in a previous post, physical activity can play an important role in motivation in school and academic success. Back in 2003 there was a study conducted using students in a second grade class in Hawaii. Just before giving the students a math test, the teacher would allow the students just 5 minutes to walk/run a specific route around the school. Researchers discovered that this brief 5 minute time span improved focus and behavior in many of the students as well as helped to improve their grades. These findings can be effective for everyone, no matter what age you are. Physical activity is beneficial in improving focus, grades, mood, and stress levels. Even a brief exercise time of 5 minutes can provide a perceivable difference in academic success.

In the study mentioned above, the teacher herself noticed the students were much more focused during the lesson, giving her more time to get the lecture done so she could answer their questions. The students themselves were able to better comprehend what was being taught in all subjects, regardless of past performance. When we exercise, blood flow to the brain increases and leads to increase nerve growth and support to synaptic plasticity which is believed to be connected to memory and learning. In less scientific terms, exercise literally improves our brains ability to learn and remember. Just a few minutes a day of exercise can greatly improve focus in class and your ability to memorize what you learn.

Mood and stress levels can also be affected by physical activity. Have you ever had a class you didn’t particularly enjoy and, therefore, had a difficult time focusing? I’m sure we’ve all experienced this. As part of the results of the study, researchers noticed the students had an increased desire to learn and were actually excited about the math test following the brief exercise. Exercise increases endorphins and norepinephrine which are chemicals that assist greatly in stress reduction and feelings of joy. Anxiety and depression can be a big problem amongst students and makes it difficult to focus in class. Physical activity can assist in helping students suffering from mild to moderate mental health problems such as these. That being said, those who suffer from severe and/or chronic anxiety and depression may need additional help beyond exercise. There are people all around you who want you to succeed, not only in school but in life. Ask a trusted adult for help if you find yourself struggling with any mental or emotional problems.

85% of students, regardless of age, learn better when learning is tied to movement. Take time between classes and when you’re doing homework to exercise. Do a few pushups, go for a walk, do jumping jacks, dance to some music, anything that gets you moving, even if just for a few minutes. Your focus and desire to learn will greatly improve, stress and depression will be reduced, and, as a consequence, your grades and comprehension will rise. Physical activity can make a huge impact on your academic success.


   Paluska, S.A. & Schwenk, T.L. Sports Med (2000) 29: 167. 00007256-200029030-00003

Maeda, Julienne K. & Randall, Lynn M. (Jan. 1, 2003). Can Academic Success Come From Five Minutes of Physical Activity? Brock Education Journal, 13, 19-27.

Research (2013). Physical Activity and Academic Success. Retrieved from