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Physically Active Students Get Better Grades

Since we began monitoring students’ recreational sports activities, we’ve observed that students who visit the rec center do better in their studies. We’ve seen it over the course of time, both before and since the new Co-Rec facility was opened in Fall of 2012. Here are the results for the Fall 2013 semester:


 chart showing more exercise leads to higher grades


Students who visit the rec center more often earned a higher GPA. Students who never visited the Co-Rec had the lowest GPA of all, and the value rises with more frequent visits up to about 50. Fifty visits in a semester is almost four trips to the rec center each week. Not many students did that, but there was a drop in group GPA for very frequent visitors.

 Why would more visits to the rec center have anything to do with GPA? Is it just a coincidence? We don’t think so. For one thing, students who exercise are more alert and can study better. For another, students who exercise regularly probably manage their time better overall, getting enough sleep and study time as well as enough exercise. Students who take advantage of the recreational facility may also be more apt to take advantage of other opportunities (e.g., supplemental instruction and tutoring) that help their studies as well as their physical health. Plus, there is scientific evidence that aerobic exercise improves the way the brain works. That goes beyond our expertise but you can read about it here and here.

 Is regular exercise just for students with easy majors and plenty of time? No. We crunched the numbers for every college at Purdue and found the same pattern for each of them. And we found the same pattern for both genders and every ethnicity. The only other factor that makes a difference on these results is whether students live on- or off-campus. Obviously students who live far away (distance learning students) aren’t going to be able to take advantage of the resources in West Lafayette. So, for them, there’s no connection between visits to the rec center and better course grades. For students living either on-campus or nearby, the pattern holds.

 OK, now for the bad news. Only about one in four Purdue students regularly takes advantage of the recreational sports facility. Another third-to-half of students occasionally comes to the center, but not often enough to get the full benefit. Probably some students are active in other places. But most just don't get enough exercise.  


chart showing most student exercise very little

Purdue's Division of Student Affairs does assessment on its programs, on the effects of co-curricular activities on student success, and on academic outcomes in general. Contact Andy Zehner at alzehner@purdue.edu or 46743 to find out more.