Improving Academic Performance Through Recreation

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 8.42.14 AMIn an informal 2010 study conducted by Purdue University campus recreation leaders and the Office of Institutional Assessment, they discovered students who visited the campus recreation center more often had higher GPA’s than those who do not work out.

“We know that physical activity and exercise do enhance cognitive function,” said Michelle Blackburn, the senior assistant director of campus recreation for student development, assessment and special programs. “So we were curious just where our students were at and how that relationship to their GPA was.”

2010 was a big year for Purdue as they had shut down their recreation facility for a renovation just shortly after conducting the study. Blackburn said they wanted to compare findings before the renovation and after. “We re-opened the facility and had similar findings, of course,” explained Blackburn. “The folks that visit the facility more often tend to show higher GPA’s than those that don’t visit. So our approach was really just to use that info to promote wellness in general and healthy lifestyles.”

They first targeted freshman orientation, known at Purdue University as Boiler Gold Rush, hoping to get students in “healthy habits early,” according to Blackburn. They also post digital billboards explaining the correlation between exercise and cognitive function throughout the recreation facility.

Most exciting to Blackburn, however, is the relationship the research has helped form between other departments at the university as well as outside schools.

This past summer, Purdue University hosted the Big 10 schools for annual conference between the colleges and universities. The emphasis was to have each institution collect and share data in an effort to work collaboratively and in hopes of conducting formal research.

“All institutions really have a wealth of data, it’s just using it in a way to tell our story and show the impacts on academic success,” she said.

Purdue collected the data from students ID cards, which must be swiped in order to gain access into the recreation facility. They then took those students GPA’s and compared it against other students who had not visited the rec center as often.

“We have access to the data. It’s a wealth of information and it could really lead into stronger research overall for our industry, which will own strengthen not only the impact we could have at our own institution but then national as well,” added Blackburn.

Blackburn is especially excited for their next step of research. This summer, they also looked at if the times students visited the rec center had any impact on their academic success.

“Some of those findings included that no matter what group you look at — whether it’s gender, race, ethnicity, even their major – if you break it down to that level, we’re still seeing that students that visit the facility more regularly will show a higher GPA boost,” said Blackburn. “And the other thing that we found was that students who visited early in the morning showed the greatest boost to their GPA verses students who may attend later in the afternoon or evening.”

Although still in the initial stages of research, she said they plan to report that information and use it to program more group exercise classes and encourage students to be consistent with morning times.

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