(HealthDay News) – For boys and girls in middle school, cardiorespiratory fitness is the strongest predictor of academic achievement, particularly of performance in reading and math.

Sudhish Srikanth, from the University of North Texas in Denton, and colleagues conducted a prospective study to examine the influence of cardiorespiratory fitness, social support, and self-esteem on academic achievement. Participants included 1,211 middle-school students (561 male and 650 female) from five middle schools in a suburban school district in Texas.

The researchers found that, after adjustment for household socioeconomic status level and general and subject-specific academic self-concept, for boys, cardiorespiratory fitness and perceived social support from family and friends predicted reading performance, while only cardiorespiratory fitness predicted math performance. For girls, cardiorespiratory fitness and body composition predicted reading performance, and cardiorespiratory fitness predicted math performance. Cardiorespiratory fitness was the strongest predictor of academic achievement.

“Cardiorespiratory fitness was the only factor that we consistently found to have an impact on both boys’ and girls’ grades on reading and math tests,” a coauthor said in a statement. “This provides more evidence that schools need to re-examine any policies that have limited students’ involvement in physical education classes.”

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