The more energy kids burn, the better they learn

Parents often worry (I am told) that reserving time for kids to be physically active reduces their time for studying and other academic pursuits, which will lead to poor grades, bad jobs, and eventual economic collapse.

Thankfully the evidence does not bear this out, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have produced the below infographic to illustrate that fact (click the image to be taken to the full-sized version on the “Burn to Learn” website).

The accompany text from the Burn to Learn website reads:

Did you know that teens who receive mostly As are almost twice as likely to get the CDC recommended daily 60 minutes of physical activity than teens who receive mostly Ds and Fs? Kids who perform better in school are more likely to be physically active on a regular basis. Adding physical activity to the school day can not only keep kids healthy, but also increase attention, behavior and positive attitudes leading to improved academic performance.

While physical activity doesn’t seem to detract from academic performance, one thing clearly does – screen time.  Our group published a systematic review last year that found that high levels of screen time were consistently associated with lower academic achievement and behavioural problems in school-aged children.  So if you want your kids to do well in school get them away from the TV and into some physical activity.  Simply taking them outside is probably a good place to start.


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3 Responses to The more energy kids burn, the better they learn

  1. My own experience is consistent with the claim that physical activity seems to help studying and that I have a harder time focusing on mental activities during a prolonged period of inactivity.

    I don’t see how the claim from that website would help mosts parents though. The claim is that kids who get better grades also get more activity, which a parent of a struggling teen is more likely to interpret as saying that kids who are better students already simply have more time for other activities, reinforcing what they already believe, that their kids need to devote more time to studying.

    I think the evidence for the direction of the causality needs to be brought into clearer relief, not just the association. They do say that activity has salutary effects, but the link is made very weakly in my opinion. People are often rightly skeptical of promotions that claim “research shows” and then throw out claims that have multiple possible interpretations. I think this message needs to be made more clearly.

  2. Janis says:

    My own experience was greatly inconsistent with this, although I do know people for whom it was consistent, or at least not inconsistent.

    I don’t see any causal relationship demonstrated here, except possibly that suburbanites in upper-middle-class families will overschedule their kids for organized team sports and academic resources.

    • Travis says:

      Excellent points. Backing up your research with only one association isn’t a slam dunk. That’s a common problem that I find with these infographics – they simplify the message (good), but they often do so to the point that their arguments aren’t backed up by enough evidence as is really needed.

      They include a bit more information on the CDC website that the infographic links to (, but it’s still mainly associations, rather than interventions.