Review| Volume 26, ISSUE 2, P140-148, February 2023

School-based physical activity interventions and language skills: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials

  • Author Footnotes
    1 These authors contributed equally to this work.
    Carlos Martin-Martinez
    1 These authors contributed equally to this work.
    Department of Didactics of Language, Arts and Physical Education, University Complutense of Madrid, Spain
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  • Author Footnotes
    1 These authors contributed equally to this work.
    Pedro L. Valenzuela
    Corresponding author.
    1 These authors contributed equally to this work.
    Research Institute of the Hospital 12 de Octubre (“imas12”, PaHerg group), Spain

    Department of Systems Biology, University of Alcalá, Madrid, Spain
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  • Marcos Martinez-Zamora
    Department of Didactics of Language, Arts and Physical Education, University Complutense of Madrid, Spain
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  • Óscar Martinez-de-Quel
    Department of Didactics of Language, Arts and Physical Education, University Complutense of Madrid, Spain

    Faculty of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences-INEF, Technical University of Madrid, Madrid, Spain
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  • Author Footnotes
    1 These authors contributed equally to this work.
Published:December 23, 2022DOI:



      School-based physical activity (PA) interventions have proven beneficial for improving cognitive performance and overall academic achievement, but their benefits on language skills remain unclear. We aimed to assess the effects of school-based PA interventions on language skills in children and adolescents.


      Systematic review with meta-analysis.


      A systematic search was performed in PubMed, PsycINFO and Scopus until September 10th, 2022. We included randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that performed a school-based PA intervention in children/adolescents and that assessed language-related outcomes (i.e., reading, spelling, vocabulary, verbal fluency, comprehension and grammar) or language school grades. Random effect meta-analyses were conducted to pool study results.


      Thirty-one studies (18,651 participants) were finally included. Significant benefits were observed for reading (standardized mean difference [SMD]: 0.15; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.08, 0.22), vocabulary (SMD: 0.71; 95%CI: 0.44, 0.97), and comprehension (SMD: 0.24; 95%CI: 0.09, 0.40), with a non-significant trend (p = 0.083) also observed for language school grades (SMD: 0.40; 95%CI: −0.05, 0.86). No significant benefits were observed for spelling or verbal fluency (both p > 0.05), and no meta-analysis could be performed for grammar skills. No consistent differences were observed between integrated (i.e., performing PA along with the academic content) and non-integrated PA interventions (e.g., extra physical education lessons).


      School-based PA interventions appear as an effective strategy for improving different language-related skills, although further research is needed to determine how interventions' and participants' characteristics moderate these effects.


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