Sample Psychology Paper on Correlation between Physical Exercise and Academic Achievement: A Literature Review

Correlation between Physical Exercise and Academic Achievement: A literature Review

            Physical exercise has numerous well-documented mental and physical health benefits including improved self-esteem and confidence and reduction in risk of suffering from lifestyle-linked conditions such as obesity. Additionally, there is a growing body of research that points to the correlation between physical exercise and cognitive development. A cross-sectional study conducted at Riyadh’s King Saud University established that there is a positive and significant correlation between physical exercise and better classroom concentration. The study involving 376 male students studying different disciplines of health including dentistry, medicine, and pharmacy also established that students who engaged in physical exercises reported higher frequencies of attending lectures compared to their counterparts who did not engage in physical exercises (Alsabih et al., 2018). Classroom concentration and frequent attendance of lectures are important contributing factors to better academic performance.  

            The study which used a multistage random sampling also highlighted some of the impediments to physical exercises among students. One of the commonest reasons cited by the participants for not engaging in physical exercise is lack of time. Out of the 376 participants interviewed, 55.8 percent had no time to exercise while 36.2 percent pointing to their lack of interest as the primary reason for not participating in physical exercise (Alsabih et al., 2018). These are important indicators when it comes to developing programs and approaches framework aimed at encouraging students to participate in physical exercises.

            One such approach whose efficacy in encouraging students to engage in physical exercises is the use of incentives. According to a study conducted by Fricke et al published in 2018, there is a correlation between the use of incentives especially financial inducements, and college student participation in physical exercises and on-campus recreational sports. The study which targeted college freshmen established that the frequency of participation in on-campus physical exercises and recreational sports among the freshmen increased by 47 percent among the cohort members there were given financial incentives. The researchers also found that such a shift in participation in physical exercises led to a significant improvement in the academic grades of the participants (Fricke et al., 2018).

            The evidence presented by Fricke et al. (2018) adds to the growing body of research which have established a strong direct correlation between participation in physical exercise and improved academic performance. Corroborating findings by Alsabih et al. (2018), Fricke et al. (2018) noted that improved performance among the students who participated in on-campus exercise and recreational sports was as a result of spending more time in class and enhanced effective studying behaviors. This is because the students spend more time within the campus as they reduced frequency of participating in off-campus activities. They also showed a greater life-study balance (Fricke et al., 2018).

            The link between improved academic performance and engaging in physical exercises is not confined to college students. Even among adolescents for their energy and active lifestyle, studies have shown that physical exercises can greatly improve academic excellence. A survey conducted in 2012 by Wi-Young So to understand the cognitive and memory benefits associated with physical activity established that boys who engaged in vigorous physical activity for between two and four times a week were more likely to score average and above-average in their academic work compared to those who did not engage in any physical activity. The survey, which sampled 75,066 adolescent male and female 7th and 12th graders in Korea, also found that students who engaged in vigorous physical activities at least once a week had a greater chance of recording above-average scores in their academic tests. The probability of posting better academic performance increased with increasing number of days the students participated in vigorous physical activities and vice versa for odds of scoring below-average marks. The results were also similar for the academic performance of the 35,454 female students surveyed (So, 2012). By highlighting the strong positive correlation between vigorous physical activity and academic excellence for both genders, this study points to the growing need for developing of uniform physical activity programs in schools that will benefit both boys and girls equally.

            A research article by Fedewa and Ahn (2013) further crystalized the problem by using a meta-analysis study to expose the correlation between physical activities and exercises and cognitive development among children. A survey and quantitative examination of 59 studies conducted in the a span of over six decades showed that majority of the studies concluded that children stand to benefit immensely by engaging in physical exercises and activities through improved cognitive functioning. In particular, majority of studies reviewed showed that aerobics had the greatest cognitive benefits compared to other physical activities such as running (Fedewa & Ahn, 2013). The meta-analyses of various studies with both historical background and current perspective on the topic provides a good policy direction especially for parents and learning centers seeking to incorporate physical activities and exercises within their curriculum.

            However, the benefits of engaging in physical activity and exercises are not confined to improved academic performance or mental and physical health. A research conducted by Field, Diego and Sender (2001) showed that adolescents who frequently engage in physical exercises were less depressed and recorded decreased levels of adolescent-parent/guardian conflict. This is in addition to improved academic performance. The survey which targeted eighty nine adolescents in high school showed that increased involvement in exercises reduced drug and substance abuse and improved social and intimate relations with peers and parents. Such students, unlike their counterparts who engaged in no or less physical exercises, recorded less incidences of depression and high involvement in sporting activities (Field, Diego & Sender, 2001). This points to the potential of physical activities and exercises in transforming students in all-rounder individuals with greater academic performance, active participation in sports, improved social skills, better cognitive skills, and improved mental and physical health.

            In conclusion, the benefits of physical exercises and activities in improving physical and mental health are well-established in various literatures. This literature review sought to document, through quantitative analysis, the correlation between physical activity and exercise and academic achievement. Through the meta-analyses of primarily current researches, the review established that students who engage in physical activities generally enjoy improved academic performance compared to their counterparts who live sedentary lifestyles. The review has shown that such students enjoy improved classroom concentration and attendance of lectures. Additionally, the review showed that there is a positive correlation between engaging in physical exercises and development of social relationships especially between the students and their parents or guardians and peers. Such students also recorded decreased levels of depression and drug abuse. These are fundamental building pillars for academic excellence.


Alsabih, M. I. et al. (2018). The Impact of Physical Activity on Health Care Student Academic Performance in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. International Archives of Integrated Medicine, 5(2), 30–37.

Fedewa, A. L., & Soyeon Ahn. (2011). The Effects of Physical Activity and Physical Fitness on Children’s Achievement and Cognitive Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis. Research Quarterly for Exercise & Sport, 82(3), 521–535.

Field, T., Diego, M., & Sanders, C. E. (2001). Exercise Is Positively Related to Adolescents’ Relationships and Academics. Adolescence, 36(141), 105.

Fricke, H., Lechner, M., & Steinmayr, A. (2018). The effects of incentives to exercise on student performance in college. Economics of Education Review, 66, 14–39.

Wi-Young So. (2012). Association between physical activity and academic performance in Korean adolescent students. BMC Public Health, 12(1), 258–264.