Educator and Coach Paul Zientarski discussed the impact of how adequate physical activity and recess enhance learning. There is a growing body of evidence indicating that physical activity and fitness can benefit both health and academic performance for children.  Because children spend so much time at school, schools have a unique opportunity to help children become more healthy and active. Furthermore, both childhood obesity and poor academic performance tend to be clustered in schools with a high percentage of lower-income, minority students, creating a student health issue that is especially problematic in those communities.  In this Webinar, presented by The National Physical Activity Society, Zientarski goes into detail about how physical activity and fitness may help school-aged children maximize their academic performance. He provides an overview of the effects of physical activity on the developing brain.


Data showcasing the findings in California’s Department of Education school system, highlight the direct connection between physical activity and brain function, specifically the increase in SAT scores due to physical activity. Indeed, academic performance is influenced by factors like parental involvement and socioeconomic status, but Zientarski’s findings report that active children tended to have stronger performance, especially in reading and mathematics. Also, the results outline that the benefits of exercise during the school day outweigh the benefits from increasing class time. Children who are more active are better able to focus their attention, are quicker able to perform simple tasks, and have better working memories and problem solving skills than less-active children. They also perform better on standardized academic test.

Coach Zientarski went into further detail when he discussed Dr. Hillman’s scientific findings. Dr. Hillman took a composite brain scan of about 20, nine and ten year olds. The children were categorized into higher and lower fitness levels and given tests similar to games found on Lumosity, the brain game website. The results of the scans showed that students with higher fitness levels had elevated brain activity, no matter how difficult or easy the tests were.

In a period when greater emphasis is being placed on preparing children to take standardized tests, these studies should give school administrators reasons to consider investing in quality physical education and vigorous activity programs, even at the expense of time spent in the classroom. Time devoted to physical activity at school does not harm academic performance. Moreover, the way to increase exercise is to promote physical education classes, recess, and classroom breaks during the school day; encouraging after-school sports and walking or biking to school when feasible would also help. Physical activity should be a core educational concern, not a dispensable option.


  1. National Physical Activity Society. How Quality Physical Education, Recess and Active Classrooms Enhance Learning. Webinar: September 19, 2016.