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 (699 Responses)
  1. Nunya Beeswax

    Seriously hope that the study did more than compare the GPAs of students that exercise with the GPAs of those that don't...which would mean nothing.

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

    Yet another article that would not exist if people would understand that correlation is not causation..

    This correlation does not necessarily mean that physical activity LEADS to a higher GPA, in the same way that it does not mean the reverse either – that higher GPA leads to more exercise..

    Could it not be that the people who are disciplined enough to exercise regularly are also more likely to be disciplined with their studies? (duh)

    June 4, 2010 at 09:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. MartinSA

    One thing I'm curious about is if these studies took into account that people committed to self-improvement will tend to exercise more and do better in school. As it stands, these findings are pretty spurious.

    June 4, 2010 at 09:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. RJ Paul

    This article fails to take into account the fact that students that are exercising more often are probably taking more physical education classes, which are participation/attendance classes mostly.

    June 4, 2010 at 09:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Sean

    Of course, these could be coincident and not necessarily causally related observations. I exercised pretty regularly throughout college, while my roommate did not. But my roommate also stopped going to classes by the end, choosing to fail and squeak by with enough credits to graduate. Needless to say, if you have the dedication to keep up regular exercise, you can probably keep up with your studies...whereas, not all students who don't exercise can't, but I'd certainly be surprised to see the opposite...

    June 4, 2010 at 09:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. steve

    If this is the case then all NCAA college players shouldn't have problems with passing grade. The last time i checked some top players were struggling to stay in college. ACSM should probably re-studied the relationship between physical activity and GPA.

    June 4, 2010 at 09:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Fred

    Same with studies of every one else – those who vigorously exercise daily for 30-45 min (producing sweat and rapid heart pumping). Better quality of life, better mental skills, better focus, better weight control, better sleeping/eating habits, etc. Bottom line: activity boosts life. Why is this such a new idea?

    June 4, 2010 at 09:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Martin

    correleation does not mean causation.

    this article is pure crap.

    You mean that students with the self control and intelligence to exercise regularly also do well in the classroom? shocking. who woulda think it.

    June 4, 2010 at 09:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Marco B

    Now with these studies, is it the exercise which leads to a higher GPA, or is it the higher GPA which results in people making smarter choices so they will exercise?

    June 4, 2010 at 09:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Bruce

    First of all, 266 undergraduates is way too small of a sample size to have any reliable results. Secondly, correlation does not prove causation. In other words, does exercise lead to higher GPA or do people who exercise more simply tend to have higher GPAs because perhaps there is a third factor involved (both doing well in school and exercising regularly require a degree of commitment)? For all we know, it could be the other way around: having a high GPA could lead people to exercise more. However, this relationship seems so tenuous that I am inclined to believe there is a third factor underlying this correlation.

    June 4, 2010 at 09:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Stephanie Concepcion

    I have been trying for years to convince my husband that our daughter's grades are so good because of all the hours she spends at dance class. She is 12 years old and has been dancing since she was 4. She's up to about 14 hours a week at dance class and her grades have not fallen. (she just made high honor roll for the year) Granted that's not the only reason she does well in school, but she's always active, always thinking and I believe that this is a huge help in her school work.

    My son was a wrestler, only in the winter season, when he wresteled his grades were fantastic. After wrestling season the grades fell.

    I don't know whether it's the actual physical excersice, or just the fact that they have less time to get into trouble when they're excersicing. Whatever the reason, it works!

    June 4, 2010 at 09:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Joe

    I'm an engineering major, and here's what my experience has taught me:

    My best friend is morbidly obese; he has a 3.0 GPA in engineering because he works 50-hour weeks in addition to school, not because of his weight.

    On the other hand some of the not-so-bright students at my school pull off 3.6+ averages simply by finding out who the "easy" professors are and doing everything in their power to get into those classes.

    Some of the people I've met who keep 4.0's semester after semester seem preoccupied with their grades to the point of near-insanity. From what people in INDUSTRY have told me (despite what those in ACADEMIA want you to think), most engineering firms don't care much about your grades as long as you keep above a 3.0 average; in fact, some might even look down on a perfect 4.0 college grad, because they want a human employee, not a robot.

    In other words, grades don't mean much in the real world.

    June 4, 2010 at 10:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. JTB

    As always, there seems to be a question of causation here. Are smarter students (with higher GPAs) more likely to exercise because they know it's good for them? Or are they smart BECAUSE they exercise?

    June 4, 2010 at 10:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. john j. grimes

    Another useless and ridiculous statistic presented to the public. Most of the 4,0 individuals I knew were either anorexic or only exercised when they walked to the refrigerator. Either that or they never left the computer.

    June 4, 2010 at 10:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. David

    "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."

    Because this was an observational study, the "causation" here could very well be reversed or completely non-existent. It might very well be that doing better in school naturally results in students finding more time to exercise, not the reverse. Or it might be that there is some third force that results in these two outcomes, such as parental pressure to perform well in school and stay healthy. Bottom line, these "correlation means causation" conclusions are tenuous at best.

    June 4, 2010 at 10:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Paul

    Or it could simply be the case that more motivated students are more likely to exercise regularly!

    June 4, 2010 at 10:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Jack Shepherd

    This study corroborates what all of us knew when we played sports in college. My grades were always better during the semesters when I played varsity soccer.

    June 4, 2010 at 10:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Mariya

    why is this surprising to anyone? all you have to do is look at the teen athletes like gymnasts or figure skaters.. most of them are straight A+ students..

    June 4, 2010 at 10:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Jenna

    The people who exercise are generally the ones who aren't out getting drunk at night. Doesn't mean exercising boosts your GPA.

    June 4, 2010 at 10:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Karl

    I don't know if I believe this. I think someone who is disciplined enough to exercise every day is probably disciplined enough to have a good study schedule.

    June 4, 2010 at 10:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. DonP

    How about a little more info?
    If the exercising kids are taking Basket Weaving 101 and Bowling and the kids who don't exercise are taking Quantum Physics and Multivariate analysis, I'm not sure this study tells us anything.

    June 4, 2010 at 10:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Tony

    Could it be a misdirected correlation? The article implies increased activity increases GPA. Could it be that it really starts with motivation, and motivated people work out and study harder than unmotivated people?

    June 4, 2010 at 10:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Animesh Ray

    I haven't read the study, but if it is just a correlation between GPA and groups of people with various levels of activity then this result may also simply mean, "Students with higher GPA tend to do more physical activity". Ideally the study should have tracked homogeneous groups of students who change from low to high (and high to low) activity over long periods and determine whether GPA changed significantly.

    June 4, 2010 at 10:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Chicagoan

    Seems more like a corrallary relationship than a causal one. Higher achievers are likely those who work hard and who push themselves. That hard work mentality likely infiltrates all aspects of their lives, whether it be making time to exercise or studying for an exam. It may not be the exercise that is causing the academic aptitude, but the work ethic. I'd be more interested to see how exercise impacts the academic ability of those who previously did no exercise. The study clearly needs better controls.

    June 4, 2010 at 10:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Teri

    Smarter people simply make wiser health choices and are more likely to exercise. I don't think exercise in and of itself makes you smarter.

    If you want a fair study on whether exercise makes you smarter, you need to look at kindergarten kids. Start the study at an age when other factors haven't come into play yet. Don't wait until college.

    June 4, 2010 at 10:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Notfatorlazy

    Ha, I hardly ever exercise, and I had a 4.0 point half-way through college...I mean, a couple of B+'s from a prof who didn't even outline grade requirements kind of killed it, but my point is that people who have high GPAs don't necessarily have much time to exercise. I mean...why would I want to spend my free time doing more work? Why?

    June 4, 2010 at 10:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Bill

    I was really disappointed by college, I never once saw a listing for either basket-weaving OR underwater basket-weaving. I graduated and left feeling like I'd been cheated out of an integral part of my collegiate experience.

    June 4, 2010 at 10:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Ryan

    I wonder if it could be that those student's who exercise are less likely to be going out on a regular basis and partying or doing other non-productive activities? As a senior at LSU with a 4.0 gpa, I know that working out to me is a way to get away from the stress of school and relax. It is a study break that keeps me from going out and partying.

    June 4, 2010 at 10:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Sith Lord

    I'm a biostatistician that designs clinical trials for a living. There's only one way to do a study like this correctly so that its results have any weight (pardon the pun).

    Randomize a student to either rigid exercise program or to no intervention at all. All students would have to have similar health metrics (not much exercise to begin with), so that the effect of adding exercise could be assessed in a homogeneous population.

    The students would have to be freshmen/sophomores and followed all through college, as the benefits likely wouldn't be instantaneous.

    My expectation is that this was a retrospective series and the previous correlation vs. causation comments above certainly have merit.

    June 4, 2010 at 11:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Tom B

    I have a lot of questions about this story.
    Were the active students already active? Were they already type "A" self starting go-getters?
    Were the inactive students lazy couch potatoes?
    Anytime you get someone off ground zero and start them moving there's an improvement. An increase in GPA would only be part of it.
    Did the study work in reverse? If you took an active student and sat them on the couch, did their GPA decrease?
    The statement "exercise reduces stress, improves performance and increases a sense of well-being."is nothing more than common sense.
    So, how much did this study cost and how much did it cost tax-payers?

    June 4, 2010 at 11:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Jason

    I have to laugh at all the people swarming this thread to rationalize why they don't work out.

    June 4, 2010 at 11:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Rob in VA

    This result is difficult to interpret and I would hope that the referees on this paper made sure that the comments below are at least mentioned somewhere in the article.

    As with many studies of this type, it is extremely difficult to determine causality here. As a prof. at a highly-selective university, I see that motivated/driven kids are far more likely to exercise than those who are neither over-achievers nor "driven" individuals.

    Although I have NOT yet read the paper, their results may be far more of an indication of motivation and, perhaps, the certain level of OCD required to excel rather than anything to do with amount and type of exercise.

    June 4, 2010 at 12:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. WV Father

    The students and parents at the West Virginia University orientation were informed that students who worked out 4 days a week had a GPA a FULL POINT higher than those who didn't exercise. Correlation not causation at least. But, exercising increases energy and energetic students get things done.

    June 4, 2010 at 12:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. stuck in houston

    if that's the case, then there should be more nobel laureates in the NFL and NBA!

    June 4, 2010 at 14:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Tom

    While I agree that correlation doesn't infer causation, I can say from experience that working out does reduce anxiety levels, which may make it easier to perform well on tests. It's easy to accomplish if one bikes to class every day (for about 40 minutes total of exercise) instead of taking the bus. It's even faster if it's done right!

    June 4, 2010 at 14:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Big Bill

    There are so many flaws with that study. I attended a large state school and had a roommate who was a star athelete who went pro. He always had a good GPA but so did all the star athletes. Not because they were smarter or they worked harder on their studies but because many profs. were "gentle graders" when it came to that group of students. Not to mention that the athletics department provided free tutors to any of the BIG STAR players who started to sag on the GPA. Now have you ever listened to most Pro-athletes talk? Stunning how many of them manage to graduate with a 4.0 GPA but can barely put 2 sentences together.

    All that aside how about the types and fields that the classes were in? Again I knew alot of the athletes at my school took very basic classes and stayed in fields like communications, education, and business. I didn't see them in engineering, computer science, chemistry, or robotics.

    This study would be valid if you took a group of students in 2 or 3 majors that all reported the same level of weekly exercise. Take 1 group and increase the weekly exercise for a semester and see if there is a change in GPA.

    June 4, 2010 at 15:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Eli

    So....the football players have higher GPA's than the geeks?

    Perhaps we should also point out that If you have a 3.8 GPA, no amount of exercise will raise it another .4.

    Highly questionable science.

    June 4, 2010 at 16:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Steven G

    It is not highly questionable, it is highly predicable but for both reasons that have so eloquently been teased apart. It is one part motivation mixed with some of the feel good and social benefits of exercise that make a person more likely to get better grades.

    June 4, 2010 at 17:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Anna

    Yeah right. I had a GPA of 3.8 and I NEVER excerises as I do now. My siblings all worked out and they barely graduated high school.

    One got a GED and another had to go to a "special school". Not because he was mentally ill or anything. It was because he was "in between". In other words he wasn't in 11th grade yet not in the 12th grade (failed a few required classes). Still got a diploma though.

    June 4, 2010 at 18:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. bobcat1a

    I wonder how many of those criticizing this study are couch potatoes hoping to avoid facing the truth of their indolence. Those with a vested interest in anything can always find a justification for their behavior.

    June 4, 2010 at 18:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. TIGER


    June 4, 2010 at 19:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Ro

    This study would have even more validity if they did this one thing... Use the same subjects as the damn control group. Take one semester and do the control and with the same group go into the next semester and do the actual experiment. This way the whole jock and geek bias would be eliminated.

    June 5, 2010 at 06:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. John Thomas

    I think this article is very bias. If you believe this article then all the football players and all who play sports will have a 4.0 GPA. Then again this is also not true because most of them are given grades just to stay playing. The bottom line is all the nerds help out those that can't get decent grades and from personal experience I have seen the so called nerds or smart kids help each other out. How? Well first they get the real smart kids to take the test and when their friends take the same test next class they already know what is on the test by getting the answers from their buddies who already took the test. All I can say is if you know the right people in school you will get somewhere otherwise just hope to be born smart.

    June 5, 2010 at 11:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Unknown

    Maybe it's right to some cases, but not all. During my college years, I didn't have single minute to do excersise, but only working to help my family, I still got my name in Dean's list.

    June 5, 2010 at 11:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. jake

    Shouldn't the jocks be smart? Seriously? I went to a university with one of the best football and basketball teams in the country, but the players needed a team of tutors to stay academically eligible to play. Profs graded on curves, players took courses in basket weaving, it was a full time job of the staff to keep these guys in the game so to speak. There was no evidence that all that time in the gym lead the student athletes at our school to anything other than bigger muscles, not bigger brains.

    June 5, 2010 at 13:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. PR

    I have personally experienced that when I am exercising regularly I feel better. There is less clutter in my brain. My concentration level is high and I can do an in-depth analysis of whatever I am reading.

    So, to all those who suggest that it is the attitude and not the exercise that brings about higher grades, I would definitely say it is the exercise that clears up your brain and you are more receptive to new ideas and thoughts and hence better grades.

    June 5, 2010 at 14:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. PR

    I would also like to add that excess of everything is bad. So if you are into playing the whole day, you are not going to better grades by magic.

    There are also factors like study techniques, interests, IQ level that are responsible for differential grades. But if you take two people with same IQ level and study techniques, you will definitely observe the positive effects of exercise.

    June 5, 2010 at 14:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Spider

    Dr. Baena-

    While I'm sure your magical mermaid solution to the oil spill will revolutionalize the oil industry, I think there would be better ways to communicate with the people in charge than a comment on a medical blog. Just my opinion.

    June 6, 2010 at 05:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Spider

    Jeez people.

    First time you've ever heard that exercise is good for "what ails ya"?

    It's been touted to improve your ability to sleep, to make it easier to quit bad habits, even to improve your sex life. Now, that doesn't mean that if you exercise you're gonna be a well rested, tee-totaling porn star. It just says that people seem to improve at other walks of life when they exercise.

    It also doesn't mean that "jocks" are destined to be the class valedictorian. Athletes tend to put all of their efforts into their physical endeavors. Some of you bad mouthing the study seem to think that the generally accepted notion that "jocks" are stupid means that any exercise, at all, will make you a blithering idiot.

    If you believe these studies then jump up and take a walk. If you don't believe them, then continue to kick back on your couch and, when you stroke out from lack of activity, be proud of your 3.8 GPA that you attained without exercising.

    June 6, 2010 at 06:15 | Report abuse | Reply


    June 6, 2010 at 07:16 | Report abuse | Reply
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