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Researchers in Holland concerned about schools cutting back on PE to make more time for academic subjects reviewed published studies into the effect of vigorous physical activity on academic performance.
Having scoured four databases they eventually found 14 studies which were relevant to their hypothesis that physical exercises may in fact improve academic performance. Out of the 14 only 2 were of a quality high enough for any definite conclusions to be drawn.
One study was observational, i.e. change nothing but correlate amount of physical activity to academic performance. The other was interventional, which meant that they increased the levels of physical activity and measured the effect on academic performance, The academic areas included reading, maths and history.
Even if these were the only two high quality studies, the researchers felt that the evidence was strong enough to draw the conclusion that "physical activity is positively related to academic performance in young people."
Obviously more studies are required, especially into the exploration of the benefit
Reference: Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012;166:49-