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Effects of a Curricular Physical Activity Intervention on Children's School Performance, Wellness, and Brain Development

Journal article
Authors Lina Bunketorp Käll
Helge Malmgren
Erik Olsson
Thomas Lindén
Michael Nilsson
Published in Journal of School Health
Volume 85
Issue 10
Pages 704-13
ISSN 0022-4391
Publication year 2015
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology
Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Clinical Neuroscience and Rehabilitation
Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Psychiatry and Neurochemistry
Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science
Pages 704-13
Language en
Keywords children; physical activity; academic achievement; psychological health; brain; MRI
Subject categories Sport and Fitness Sciences


BACKGROUND: Physical activity and structural differences in the hippocampus have been linked to educational outcome. We investigated whether a curriculum-based physical activity intervention correlates positively with children’s academic achievement, psychological well-being, health-related quality of life (HRQoL), fitness, and structural development of the brain. METHODS: The study had a quasi-experimental design and a control group. National test results were gathered from 545 students, 122 in the intervention school, and 423 in 3 control schools. HRQoL and socioemotional data were collected with child and proxy versions of KIDSCREEN and the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire. Overall, 79 students in grades 5 and 6 were recruited for an in-depth study, consisting of a submaximal oxygen consumption test and magnetic resonance imaging of the brain. HRQoL and socioemotional data were collected from 349 students (65%), 182 (52%) in the intervention school, and 167 (48%) in one of the control schools. RESULTS: Girls attending the intervention school were more likely to pass national tests in Swedish (odds ratio 5.7) and Mathematics (odds ratio 3.2). The fourth to sixth graders in the intervention school reported lower levels of conduct problems (p < .05), and the girls were also less likely to report hyperactivity (p < .05). Girls reported higher levels of emotional problems (p < .05) than boys. Boys in the intervention group had significantly higher levels of estimated maximal oxygen uptake (p < .05) than controls. No difference in hippocampal structure was seen. CONCLUSIONS: Curriculum-based physical activity in school may improve the academic achievement and psychological health of children, particularly for girls.

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