Vigorous Exercise Boosts GPA

Many studies have positively linked physical fitness and academic achievement in elementary and middle-school aged children. But a report from the American College of Sports Medicine indicates that college students can also increase their grade point average (GPA) by engaging in vigorous exercise.

The study examined the grades and exercise habits of 266 undergraduates. Overall, students who engaged in vigorous physical activity (defined as an effort of 7-8 on a scale of 1-10) for 20 minutes seven days a week had a GPA that was 0.4 points higher (on a scale of 4.0) than those who did not engage in regular physical activity.

The cross-sectional nature of the study, reported at the American College of Sports Medicine’s 57th annual meeting, was not able to define a causal relationship between exercise and academics, but the researchers adjusted and controlled for variables that might influence the results, such as gender, study time, participation in college sports, and major area of study.  The results still positively associated time spent exercising with higher academic success.

A similar report found that college students who studied three or more hours daily were four times as likely to engage in vigorous exercise, and three times more likely to engage in moderate physical activity, than students who studied less than one hour daily. And, students with GPAs of 3.5 or higher were more likely to participate in vigorous exercise than students with a GPA under 3.0.

So which came first: the desire to exercise or academic success? Are students who are goal-oriented and hard-working when it comes to academics simply more committed to following an exercise routine? Or, does exercise really boost your brain power? If nothing else, the authors recommend that a daily dose of physical activity reduces stress, improves cognitive performance, and increases overall well-being, which at least do not hurt study habits.

Studies have shown that academic achievement is associated with vigorous physical activity among elementary, middle and high school students. On an individual level, academic achievement is influenced by physical activity, but, also, on a school-wide level, schools are more likely to achieve higher total scores on standardized tests when the overall fitness level of the students is higher.

While there is no cause-and-effect relationship defined between exercise and grades, promoting opportunities for physical fitness — and allowing time for much-needed study breaks — can increase the likelihood of academic achievement throughout the years of formal education. More research is needed to uncover any cause-and-effect that does exist, or to extend the findings to success beyond college.


Press release: Hit the treadmill – not just the books – to boost grades. American College of Sports Medicine’s 57th Annual Meeting. Baltimore, MD; June 3, 2010.

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Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.
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