01:36pm Friday 22 November 2019

For schoolchildren, physical activity boosts learning capacity

INDIANAPOLIS – School administrators looking to restructure the academic schedule should consider the placement of physical education classes, according to research released today by the American College of Sports Medicine. The study, titled “Effects of Varying Types of Exertion on Children’s Attention Capacity,” is published in the March issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise® and finds that adding physical activity into the school day helps children concentrate on their academic work. 

“School teachers frequently claim that students lose attention and concentration with prolonged periods of academic instruction,” said Maria Chiara Gallotta, first author of the study. “The key elements of learning, particularly important during development, are attention and concentration. Our study examined the relationship between exertion and the attention and concentration levels of schoolchildren.”  

Researchers with the University of Rome “Foro Italico” in Italy monitored attention and concentration in 138 children, ages 8-11. Students completed three 50-minute sessions – one with physical exertion only (PE), one with cognitive exertion only (CE), and one combining cognitive and physical exertion (CPE). Sessions were held at the same time during the week for three consecutive weeks.  

Before and after the session, students took the d2 Test of attention to measure their processing speed, concentration performance and performance quality. The d2 Test is a letter cancellation test where students identify specific characters on a page. This particular test comprised 14 lines of 47 “p” and “d” characters. Students had 4.67 minutes to identify only letters “d” with double marks above or below the character.  

“The d2 Test determined the student’s capacity to focus on one stimulus, while suppressing awareness to competing distractors,” said Gallotta. “Performance on this test reflects visual perceptual speed and concentrative capabilities.” 

While post-session scores improved for all students in all categories, the attention increase was significantly higher following cognitive exertion only and physical exertion only. Processing speed improved by nine percent in the CE group, 10 percent in the PE group and four percent in the CPE group. Concentration performance improved by 13 percent in the CE group, 10 percent in the PE group and two percent in the CPE group. Researchers suggest that the lower improvement of cognitive performance in the CPE group could be due to excessive stress induced by the mixed exertion.  

“Our findings suggest that varying types of exertion have different beneficial influences on school children’s immediate cognitive performance,” said Gallotta. “While more research is needed, we believe this provides helpful justification for increasing physical activity opportunities in the academic setting.  

“Presently, we are investigating the effects of a traditional physical education lesson and of a coordinative physical education and, therefore, the effects of the physical load—and the effects of mental load associated with physical load—on the function of attention maintenance in primary school students.”


The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 45,000 international, national and regional members and certified professionals are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise® is the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, and is available from Lippincott Williams & Wilkins at 1-800-638-6423. For a complete copy of the research paper (Vol. 44, No. 3) or to speak with a leading sports medicine expert on the topic, contact the Department of Communications and Public Information at 317-637-9200 ext. 127. Visit ACSM online at www.acsm.org.

 The conclusions outlined in this news release are those of the researchers only, and should not be construed as an official statement of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Share on:

MORE FROM Mental Health and Behavior

Health news