New Study Examines Link Between Exercise and Academic Performance

Collegiate recreation participation may hold the key to improving academic performance.

In the recently published study, researchers at North Carolina State University found an increase in students’ GPA and likelihood of graduation as their exercise and physical activity behaviors increased.

Led by Dr. Heather Sanderson, researchers studied the physical activity habits and academic performance of more than 21,000 undergraduate students.

In the findings, an increase of an extra one hour per week of physical activity produced a 0.06 improvement in total GPA, a small but positive result. The study also found that odds of graduation also rose by 49 percent with the introduction of the same habits.

“If a student who does not workout and then adds three hours per week, you are now looking at a 0.18 increase in GPA, which is a major impact,” said Sanderson.

Researchers created a measure known as contact hours, which equated to a one-hour visit to the collegiate recreation center or participation in collegiate recreation programs. Student participation in activities, such as a group fitness class or intramural sports game equaled one hour per visit.

Using a 16-week semester, the team simulated performance of a complete academic year, before adding factors such as class year. When introduced, other factors such as a student’s race, high school GPA and SAT score did not alter the positive increase or odds of graduation.

Two groups, first-year and sophomore students, displayed a greater positive impact with an increase in contact hours in recreation program, compared to students classified as juniors or seniors.

Federal guidelines recommend adults achieve at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week.