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Fitness makes for higher academic grade point averages, says new research

Fitness appears to improve academic success, at least according to a new study on academic memory/retention/success and working out in a gym. For those students looking to bump up their grade point averages during college, the answer may not be spending more time in a library or study hall, but in a gym, says new research, "Academic Success and Retention: The Role of Recreational Sports Fitness Facilities," can be found in the most recent issue of the Recreational Sports Journal.

Fitness, grade point average, and student success.
Photo by Handout

The new study from Michigan State University shows that students who were members of the recreational sports and fitness centers on Michigan State University's (MSU’s) campus during their freshman and sophomore years had higher GPAs than those who weren't.

The research also indicated that students with memberships stayed in school longer

Researchers observed an increase of 3.5 percent in two-year retention rates among this group. “That could equate to about 1,575 people within a student population of 49,000 deciding to move on to a third year of school,” says James Pivarnik, according to the July 10, 2014 news release, "Want a higher GPA in college? Join a gym." Pivarnik is a professor of kinesiology and epidemiology at MSU. “These results provide a compelling argument to universities that a higher student retention rate could be enhanced just by having adequate recreational and fitness facilities for students.”

During the project, Pivarnik’s team analyzed data from a sample of freshmen and sophomores, totaling 4,843 students, and compared the GPAs of those who purchased a fitness facility membership and those who did not. Results showed that after four consecutive semesters, the students with memberships obtained higher cumulative GPAs. They also had more credits completed by the end of their first year in college.

“We found that these students’ cumulative GPAs were 0.13 points higher,” Pivarnik explains, according to the news release. “Although this number may not appear to be significant, in the end, that amount could mean the difference to those students on the cusp of getting into graduate school or even advancing to the next academic year.”

Pivarnik notes that 74 percent of those with memberships successfully gained their sophomore status while only 60 percent reached that goal in the nonmember group

“The results of this study are important because not only are we retaining more students, but we’re retaining those that have higher GPAs which is good for everyone,” Pivarnik says, according to the news release. Other researchers involved in the study included Richard McNeil, Michigan State University's (MSU’s) director of recreational sports and fitness services, and Ira Washington, a statistics specialist also at the university.

Pivarnik and MSU doctoral student Samantha Danbert in the Department of Kinesiology, led the study. The research supports previous theories suggesting that by creating an environment that connects students to an institution, in this case a university recreational facility, an increase in academic success and retention can occur.

The study makes homeschoolers wonder about sports injuries when it comes to contact sports and how those head injuries or motor skill issues might affect college grades. Then again, working out in a gym is different than playing contact sports. But sports injuries do come up as a topic when parents compare gym membership to solitary exercises such as Tai Chi or meditation, brisk walking, or yoga stretches. Then again, fitness and health are different.

Students on tight budgets or those who must work full time and attend college part time may not be able to afford gym membership and the high cost of college. Some exercises don't cost any money such as walking or working out on a job that requires moving all day, or practice exercises that don't require gym equipment.

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