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June 3rd, 2010
05:17 PM ET

Does increased activity mean higher GPA?

By Georgiann Caruso
CNN Medical Associate Producer

Twenty minutes of daily vigorous physical activity among college students may lead them to have grade point averages about .4 higher, on a scale of 4.0, compared with students who do not exercise.

A study presented Thursday at the American College of Sport Medicine's annual meeting demonstrated the relationship and reinforced the notion that exercise reduces stress, improves performance and increases a sense of well-being.

Joshua Ode supervised the study at a university in the northern U.S., of students ages 18-22. Ode said, "If the students are improving in the classroom, it may create a better campus environment. You're creating more successful students, which is the goal of universities."

Researchers studied 266 undergraduates and defined moderate activity as those exercises which don't make you sweat or breathe hard, and vigorous activity for those which do, of any type. Their findings were consistent regardless of gender or major.

Ode said one of the next questions for further study should include the impact of activity on GPA throughout college.

And it doesn't have to be seven days a week, Ode said. But the research suggests the more often, the better.

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soundoff (112 Responses)
  1. Dr. Baena

    I had sent a solution repeatedly starting over a month ago to the support team, politicians, etc on how to fix the undersea leaking problem. This solution has a much greater chance of working and it appears that after a number of failures, they are moving in the direction I had recommended. but since they have not followed all the details of the plan, the situation is an evergrowing mess!. If you really care about the problem like I do and want to make this work,contact me by email as soon as possible and I will send you the details on how to stop this...
    We can take this off line to discuss this further. or if you need to contact me directly I will provide my phone number via email if you send me an email.

    June 4, 2010 at 00:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. hmm

    all the geeks who score well in tests must be working out secretly.

    June 4, 2010 at 05:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Scott

    They should introduce some other controls for this test. As a college age student I don't think that exercise, resulting in lower stress levels is responsible for higher gpa's. I think that students who exercise regularly are just in general more goal oriented and more effective at achieving those goals, than individuals who lounge about and do there work when they feel like it. The correlation is a result of work ethic, not reduced stress levels from expelling energy.

    June 4, 2010 at 06:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Andy

    It sounds from this summary of the study that causality was not even claimed by the researchers. This may well be another of those spurious statistical relationships misrepresented by news sources. For instance, it may be equally arguable that students who have higher GPAs do more vigorous activity. I know that when I feel unsettled or less confident my exercise regimen suffers significantly. Likewise, when I feel am on the top of my academic game I also find the energy to train and even compete athletically.

    June 4, 2010 at 06:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. krippendorf

    Interesting, but the story should report how, if at all, the study tried to demonstrate a causal effect instead of just a correlation. We know, for example, that students who come from more privileged socioeconomic backgrounds get better grades, and they also exercise more than students from less advantaged backgrounds. This doesn't mean that exercise *causes* better grades. Correlation does not equal causation.

    June 4, 2010 at 06:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Julie P

    I'll take my cumulative 3.24 GPA and being moving along now.

    June 4, 2010 at 06:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Rebecca

    Are we talking about comparing those who already exercised to those who did not or did the study randomly assign people? I'm curious as to whether this is really about exercise or perhaps the same personality traits that lead people to exercise regularly being more likely to lead them to study as well.

    June 4, 2010 at 06:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Me

    Correlation does not mean causal relationship. Unless there's more to the study than reported here, it doesn't demonstrate exercise causes you to get higher grades. It only shows that people who have higher grades also tend to exercise. This is an extremely basic concept of science and I'm surprised anyone who claims to know science will suggest that this study demonstrates exercising causes better grades.

    June 4, 2010 at 07:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Larry W

    Cause and effect, please. Perhaps, those who are doing better in college are more organized, and are able to make the time for exercise. Or, those doing better in college, make better choices about how to use their free time (one can exercise, or watch television, or do drugs).

    Better still, perhaps these scientists can actually design a real experimental study to take a large sample of college students who do not exercise, and put one-half on an exercise regimen, then see if their grades improve.

    June 4, 2010 at 07:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Dan C

    Correlation, not causation.

    It could be that people that are organized or disciplined enough to exercise also are also capable of better organization and discipline to study, etc.

    June 4, 2010 at 07:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. rhaskill

    What a terrible study It shows a potential correlation but does not come any where close to showing any sort of causation. I have two big question do those who work out more really get higher GPA's or is it the other way around and that those with higher GPA's tend to work out more? Or is there a completely unrelated connection? This is a terrible study that proves absolutely nothing and shouldn't even be up here.

    June 4, 2010 at 07:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. jazzsushi

    Not surprising. I have found that physical exercise increases overall energy, cures the blues, and gives you more energy. Also wondering if those students who exercise (versus sedentary students) are inherently more motivated to begin with.

    June 4, 2010 at 07:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. joe

    What were the controls and the study groups? The article doesn't say. Perhaps the people who had the discipline to work out simply had the discipline to study hard as well. You can put a silk hat on a pig...

    June 4, 2010 at 07:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Abraham Lincoln

    You hear that, fatties?! You make college campuses worse places to be! Put down the Cheetos and go for a run!

    June 4, 2010 at 07:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. PA-Pilot

    Another study of indirect cause. The exercise is not what causes the higher GPA. Students who exercise daily are also not lazy. They are more motivated, and more responsible people, so obviously they also have better study habits.

    A lazy student who picks up exercise is not going to magically score better marks on tests.

    June 4, 2010 at 07:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Mike

    Or maybe those that tend to exercise consistently are generally more disciplined, which carries over to studying and assignments.

    June 4, 2010 at 07:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Oodoodanoo

    Causation vs. correlation pitfall ahead. Maybe people who exercise have higher GPAs not because they exercise, but because people who are highly motivated are likely to both exercise and study hard.

    June 4, 2010 at 07:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Gary

    I agree with this blog. Trust me, I'm an active-duty Sailor on deployment working nearly 16 hour days and after that, a couple hours extra at night is devoted towards my studies for a MBA. I can generally tell that I'm more mentally sharper after I start my day with exercise than without it- I have an easier time doing homework and the like at night after I exercised in the morning. There is only so much coffee and other beverages you can drink, but exercise always seem to work with me.

    June 4, 2010 at 07:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. butlerbulldawg74

    correlation, not causation. these are type A's most likely, who would get higher grades even if they didn't exercise.
    to see if there really is a benefit, take some students who don't exercise at all and put them on a weekly exercise program for an entire semester, and see if their grades improve.
    just my two cents.

    June 4, 2010 at 07:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. MyCoke

    Unless you include so called "Student Athletes" in the equation, in which case you see no correlation. Also, a study like this is pretty much useless. College students who choose to perform "Twenty minutes of daily vigorous physical " are likely more educated to begin with, and therefore you would expect to see higher GPA's from them. Clearly, these researchers didn't think they had discovered something new, did they?

    June 4, 2010 at 07:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Ed

    What a bunch of goofiness! Who devised this 'study'? According to this so-called 'study', the jocks in school should have been pushing 4.0 grade point averages – all the jocks I knew in school were just squeaking by 1.0 to 2.0.

    Not a lot of critical thinking went into the creation of this article.

    June 4, 2010 at 08:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Will S

    ...or do people with higher GPAs tend to exercise more? Cause and effect, please.

    June 4, 2010 at 08:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Sebastian

    I would not rush to support the notion of causality between exercising and good grades. Speaking from experience, it takes a lot of discipline to maintain any exercise regimen, and discipline itself is certainly required for good university performance. Perhaps discipline is a confounding variable?

    June 4, 2010 at 08:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. JohnnyDollar

    Correlational studies like this are always dangerous b/c they are likely to be interpreted by the media and public as causational. This blurb is so short it's hard to tell, but it appears to be limited to a correlation. Besides "increased activity = higher GPA," another interpretation is: students with better studying habits (due to parents, or self-motivation, etc) are also likely to be more motivated to be physically fit and healthy; "lazy" students will be more likely to be lazy both in their study habits and activities.

    June 4, 2010 at 08:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Matthew Malter Cohen

    For more evidence of this relationship, see:
    http://www.tc.columbia.edu/i/a/document/5449_MaltercohenVol9.pdf

    June 4, 2010 at 08:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Abby

    This is completely true! First semester I had a gpa of 2.6 and didnt exercise. Second semster I exercised 3-4 days a week and had a 3.6 gpa!

    June 4, 2010 at 08:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Casey

    Could this possibly be a backwards conclusion? Instead of exercise leading to better grades, could it be that the more disciplined students tend to be more disciplined in other aspects of their lives?

    June 4, 2010 at 08:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Greg

    Correlation is not causation. Just because two things are associated with each other (higher GPA and exercise) does not mean one causes the other. Behaviorally, someone who exercises is probably a more motivated person than someone who does not. This means a higher level of effort would be put into studying and preparing for tests. Also, maybe smarter people know that exercise is good for them? Some of the top paid athletes probably would not have had the highest GPA’s in their class… my point is that physical activity is probably not the driver of the better GPA’s, but the lifestyle of people who choose to regularly exercise is.

    June 4, 2010 at 08:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. ben

    Did the study differentiate between athletes and students who went to the gym on their own? Participating in a varsity sport in college typically requires good time management skills as a student must balance work with a daily practice schedule. This could be another factor connected to higher GPAs beyond the stress-reducing benefits of exercise. Of course that could also be compared to students who participate in non-exercise extracurricular activities (band, acting etc.) to compare the effects of the two.

    June 4, 2010 at 08:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Limbaugh is a liberal

    Wow! I guess that explains why the valedictorians are always the football players... oh wait...

    June 4, 2010 at 08:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Rhiannon

    What was the experimental design of the study (if it was an experiment)? How did they measure the effect? If it's purely observational, I can think of several reasons why students who exercise more might tend to have higher GPAs: self-discipline, the tendency to be a high school athlete (suggesting a predisposition to competition and college environment), stronger motivation, maturity, etc. It would be nice if you could either point us toward the published study or give us a sentence or two describing how it was set up, so we could understand the methodology. In this case I don't even know if they prescribed exercise as a treatment, or if they just surveyed the students and asked how much they exercised!

    June 4, 2010 at 08:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Peter E

    Interesting. Although I don't think that if people spend all their time in the gym/out on a field running around at the expense of actually studying their grades will improve. I know college kids are trying to find ways around actually doing work, but the number one way to improve your grades is still just spending more time studying. This article may be misinterpreted without mentioning exactly how this study was done, what the control group was, and whether we are evenly comparing apples to apples.

    June 4, 2010 at 08:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Jeff

    They need to take a close look at causality. It may be that more motivated students both study harder (and thus get better grades) and exercise more. Therefore there would be a correlation between the two. But that doesn't mean that the exercise caused the better grades.

    June 4, 2010 at 08:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Gary Lucido

    The article needs to explain how the study groups were created and split up. The only right way to do this study is to randomly assign people to exercise or not exercise but it's not clear if this protocol was followed.

    June 4, 2010 at 08:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Dale

    Perhaps the self discipline required to exercise regularly also causes those students to hit the books more consistently. I see no cause and effect here. Bad science.

    June 4, 2010 at 08:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. SBZ

    The real question should be if someone starts exercising will their GPA go up. I don’t this it is a revelation to anyone who ever went to high school or collage that people who do better in school tend to be more physically active.

    So the study needs to find out which statement true – “exercise tend to makes people smarter” or “smarter people tend to exercise”

    June 4, 2010 at 08:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Jeff

    You're reporting this wrong. What they found was that people who exercise also have better grades. You cannot automatically equate that with exercise CAUSING better grades. It's like saying lighters cause lung cancer because people with lung cancer often have lighters in their pockets. You need a completely different study to prove that exercise causes better grades, one where non-exercisers were made to exercise while their grades were monitored. If you're having trouble with the concept of correlation not implying causation, then leave the interpretation to the professionals.

    June 4, 2010 at 08:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Slacker

    While health benefits of exercise are undeniable, I'm skeptical about academic benefit across the board. Were exercise truly improved GPA for all ethnic groups, the students of the majority groups in basketball and football teams would show consistently higher GPA than students of ethnicities that prefer to exercise by moving their hands across the chessboard or their fingers across the keyboard.

    We get the research we pay for.
    .

    June 4, 2010 at 08:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. SteveArchie

    Interesting. Although, I'm curious if the exercise actually caused the increase in GPA or if they are just correlated. I would guess that many of those who are highly motivated to get good grades might also be highly motivated to keep themselves in good shape.

    June 4, 2010 at 08:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Dan

    As a fan of both exercise and high grades, I'm pleased to learn of a correlation between the two. That being said, an important thing to note is that "correlation does not imply causation." Is there any evidence that the exercise itself is what causes improvement in academic performance, or could it be that people who are motivated to excel in the classroom are more likely to also be the ones who are motivated to stay in shape?

    June 4, 2010 at 08:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Gerard

    Not meaningful research as there was no control group. It's plausible smarter students would both have higher GPAs and understand the importance of exercise.

    June 4, 2010 at 09:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Matt

    Come on...while all of those points may be true, that exercise makes you perform better....feel better, don't you think the only reason that there is a relationship between exercise and GPA is the reason that people who tend to take care of themselves and exercise are more likely to care about their lives and future, therefore, take the time to study and do well in school.

    June 4, 2010 at 09:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Abhijit Sanyal

    This has been known for decades. There is nothing ground-breaking earth-shattering about this. It would be better if Joshua Ode put his talents to better use rather than proving a well-known hypothesis. This is prime example of wastage of NIH/NSF funds.

    June 4, 2010 at 09:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Andrew

    why does correlation always assume causation?

    what about lazy people = no physical activity and not trying to school
    Self-motivated people = active and try in school.

    seems much more likely cause than what the article is reporting.

    June 4, 2010 at 09:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Pfeffer

    By this study, I would expect Divison I college basketball players to have super super high GPA's–after all they work out all the time. How's that going?

    June 4, 2010 at 09:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Jonathan

    Obviously, it's great to encourage students to exercise. But this article's conclusion seems like a classic case of mistaking correlation for causation to me. Students who have better study skills and better academic outcomes could then feel inspired to improve themselves physically, or have more time and energy to do so. Further, there may be a third factor, such as mood , which causes both exercise habits and academic performance to improve, or substance use, which could cause both exercise and academic performance to decline. Were such factors controlled for?

    June 4, 2010 at 09:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Olya

    One cannot assume from a limited study as such that the exercise was leading to improved GPA.

    Having graduated from high school with 4.0, from college (Department of Engineering) with 4.0 and nearing a graduation with a PhD , with 4.0 (I completed my coursework requirement, so the 4.0 GPA is there to stay), I can certainly tell you that although I am very fit (mostly due to Eastern European diet I inherited), I am not the one to exercise every day.

    Problem with studies like this one is the various angles at which the correlation can be looked at.

    Is it possible that a student who is responsible and conscious of their body and health and dedicated and disciplined enough to exercise every day is also likely to be more disciplined at school?

    Then, does it mean a more disciplined student is likely to both exercise and be more disciplined at school, which is NOT the logic proposed: the student is performing better *because of* exercise?

    Unless of course, the study showed the increase of GPA *after* the students started to exercise – but then, a study like that would need to run over a course of a few semesters to be validated, in order to determine whether it is a consistent trend, and not a local spike in test scores in the few months after (likely indicating the students' enthusiasm about the study)

    June 4, 2010 at 09:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Matt

    I'm curious if the willingness to exercise and the improved GPA are merely symptoms of a person's personality: why wouldn't someone who is willing to put in effort to reach a goal in one aspect of life be equally inclined to behave that way in other aspects? Likewise, if someone is lazy, they're probably all-around lazy, not selectively lazy.

    June 4, 2010 at 09:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Laurel

    Correlation does not equal causation. You could argue that students who prioritize exercise in their schedule have better organizational skills that translate to better work ethic and a higher GPA.

    June 4, 2010 at 09:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Saleem

    I love how researchers love to assume that correlation implies causality. Shouldn't they also consider the fact that the same characteristics that drive a person to pursue regular exercise will probably also drive a person to pursue academic or career excellence? In other words, it isn't the exercise that is causing good grades. It is the persons drive that is causing both the strong desire for physical achievement and the strong desire for mental achievement.

    June 4, 2010 at 09:34 | Report abuse | Reply
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