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Table 1 Study designs, characteristics and main results

From: Effects of school-based physical activity on mathematics performance in children: a systematic review

Author and countryDesignInterventionnAge (y) or gradeDurationType of PAAchievement Measure(s)Achievement Outcome(s)Main Result
Long-term Interventions
 Beck et al. (2016), DenmarkCluster RCTMotor-enriched mathematics lessons 1) Fine motor math (FMM) 2) Gross motor math (GMM)1657.56 weeksIntegrated/ specific movementStandardised Danish test; arithmetic and geometryGMM improved from T0 to T1. At T2 no significant differences between groups0
 Da Cruz (2017), USAGroup randomised trialThree 60 min MVPA activities/ week16712.117 weeksAfter school PAWoodcock-Johnson Test of Achievement III; math fluency and math applied problemsIntervention group had significantly higher math fluency performance but not math applied problems than the control group+/0
 Davis et al. (2011), USARCTAfter school exercise program 5d/week: 1) Low-dose, 20 mins of PA 2) High-dose, 40 mins of PA1719.313 weeksAfter school PEWoodcock-Johnson Test of Achievement III, broad mathematics clustersSignificant benefit of exercise on mathematics achievement+
 Donnelly et al. (2009), USACluster RCTPA across the curriculum 90 mins weekly during academic lessons2037–83 yearsIntegrated PAStandardised Wechsler Individual Achievement TestSignificant improvement in intervention group math scores compared to the control schools+
 Donnelly et al. (2017), USACluster RCT55 min/week of PA across curriculum (target 100 min), two 10-min lessons per day5848.13 yearsIntegrated PAStandardised Wechsler Individual Achievement TestNo significant impact of intervention on math achievement0
 Elofsson et al. (2018), SwedenPre-test vs post-test mixed factorial designTwo 30 mins PA sessions/week: Math in action (MIA) group and Common numerical activities (CNA). Control group.535.83 weeksIntegrated PAVerbal arithmetic testMIA -group developed significantly more than students in control group with respect to counting forward, naming numbers, number line estimation, verbal addition and subtraction+
 Erwin et al. (2012), USAQuasi-experimental studyDaily 20 min PA breaks with math content in class.298.920 weeksPA breaks with math contentCurriculum based math fluency 1 min test and stadardised testsIntervention students had significantly higher curriculum based math scores than the controls but not standardised tests or grades+
 Fedewa et al. (2015), USACluster RCTPA breaks throughout the day, 5 min at once, 20 min/day460grades 3–58 monthsPA breaks with math contentNational standardised Measures of Academic Progress (MAP)Treatment classrooms experienced larger gains in mathematics achievement+
 Hraste et al. (2018), CroatiaRCT4 x PA integrated into 45 min mathematics/geometry lessons3610.41 weekIntegrated PAA standard test for assessing mathematical knowledge and a geometry testExperimental group was significantly more successful in the geometry tests than the control group+
 Gao et al. (2013), USACrossover design30 min of aerobic activities or exergaming (dance) three times a week20810–122 yearsPE lessonsMath scores for the Utah Criterion-Referenced TestChildren in PA intervention showed more improvement on math scores in year 1 and 2 than comparison groups+
 Katz et al. (2010), USAInterventionMultiple type structured PA breaks throughout the school day (> 30 mins/day)12147–98 monthsPA break in classMissouri Academic Peformance (MAP) scoresNo significant differences between intervention and control groups in MAP scores of mathematics performance0
 Lubans et al. (2018) AustraliaCluster RCTMaximising students’ MVPA during PE classes through PE teacher in-service training117312.97 monthsHigher intensity PE lessonsNational Assessment Program -Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN): understanding, fluency, problem solving, and reasoning in numeracyA small to medium effect on mathematics performance. The effect was equal to approximately one quarter of the increase in typical age-level mathematics performance.+
 Mavilidi et al. (2018), AustraliaCluster RCT15 min learning session once per week. Four intervention groups: 1) PA related to the learning tasks, 2) observation of peers’ PA 3) PA unrelated to the learning task 4) control condition1204.74 weeksIntegrated PA + PA breaksCounting, number line estimation, block counting, numerical magnitude, comparison, numerical identificationThe performing integrated PA condition performed significantly better than the other conditions, with the largest effect on number line estimation and numerical magnitude comparison+
 Mead et al. (2016), USAPretest–posttest design1) Two 5-min PA breaks during each math period (ACTB), 2) Students always sat on stability balls (STAB)8111–121 yearStability ball and PA breakStandards-based Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCA) and Measures of Academic Progress (MAP)PA breaks were not effective in improving math scores but use of stability balls was effective0
 Mullender-Wijnsma et al. (2015), NetherlandsQuasi-experimental designPhysically active academic lessons 3x week. Each lesson had 10–15 min math problems and 10–15 min language problems2288.121 weeksIntegrated PATempo Test Rekenen (Speed arithmetic test)3rd grade intervention group scored significantly higher on mathematics compared to the controls while the 2nd grade group scored significantly lower than the controls+/−
 Mullender-Wijnsma et al. (2016), NetherlandsCluster RCTPhysically active academic lessons 3x week. Each lesson had 10–15 min math problems and 10–15 min language problems4998.12 yrs. (22wk/year)Integrated PATwo standardised math tests (speed and general math skills)Intervention group had significantly greater gains in mathematics speed test and general mathematics+
 Resaland et al. (2016), NorwayCluster RCT90 min/week physically active lessons (30 min math), 5 min/day PA breaks, 10 min/day PA homework1129107 monthsIntegrated PA + PA breaks+ PA homeworkStandardised Norwegian national testsNo significant intervention effect0
 Resaland et al. (2018), NorwayCluster RCT90 min/week physically active lessons (30 min math), 5 min/day PA breaks, 10 min/day PA homework1129107 monthsIntegrated PA + PA breaks+ PA homeworkStandardised Norwegian national testsBoys and girls in the low performing tertile had a beneficial trend. Middle and high performing girls responded with negative trends.0
 Riley et al. (2016), AustraliaRCTMovement based learning in mathematics 3 × 60 min/week.240116 weeksIntegrated PAStandardised mathematics progressive achievement testNo significant effect on mathematical performance0
 Sallis et al. (1999), USAExperimental designThree days/week, 30 min lessons of 1) Specialist-taught program 2) Trained classroom teacher taught program75492 yearsExtra PE lessonsNorm-referenced Metropolitan achievement testMore time in PE did not have harmful effects on math achievement test scores0
 Sjöwall et al. (2017), SwedenIntervention180 min extra PA/ week4706–132 yearsExtra PA activitiesArithmetic test: One min addition and subtractionNo significant effects were found for arithmetic0
 Snyder et al. (2017), USAInterventionStudents active for at least 50% of the 70-min mathematics lesson243rd grade5 weeksIntegrated PACommon Summative Assessment (CSA)No statistically significant differences between the two classrooms0
 Tarp et al. (2016), DenmarkCluster RCT60 min daily PA a) PA integrated into academic subjects b) Recess PA activities C) PA homework daily D) active transportation63212–1320 weeksIntegrated + recess PA + PA homework + active transportationCustom made grade specific mathematics tests: arithmetic, algebra, problem-solving and geometryNo significant effect of the intervention on mathematics skills0
 Watson et al. (2018,) AustraliaCluster RCT3 × 5 min active breaks in classroom daily, five times a week3129.16 weeksPA break in classWestwood one minute test on basic number facts (subtraction subtest)No intervention effect on mathematics0
 Vetter et al. (2018), AustraliaRandomized crossover trialThree 20 min sessions/week, physically active learning of numeracy skill of times Tables (TT).859.86 weeksIntegrated PACustom made curriculum based TT test and general standardised assessment from the Australian National Assessment Program-Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN)No significant difference in the TT test between PA and control conditions. Significantly greater improvement in general numeracy for PA group than control group0/+
Acute Effects
 Harveson et al. (2018), USARandomized crossover designa) AE, 30 min aerobic exercise, b) RE, 30 min resistance exercise, c) NE, no exercise.9115.9Three separate sessions separated by 7 days eachPA session before testBattery of four 10-question math tests taken from New York State Testing Program examsAcute RE and AE did not significantly improve scores on a mathematics test0
 Howie et al. (2015), USAWithin-subjects randomised experimentPA breaks: 1) 5 min 2) 10 min 3) 20 min breaks or 10 min sedentary lesson9610.7One consistent time of day and weekPA breaks in classOne min math fluency test based on state curriculum standardsMath scores were higher after the 10-min and 20-min exercise breaks compared with the control, but not after the 5-min exercise break+
 Phillips et al. (2015), USAWithin -subjects design, repeated measures design20 min vigorous PA followed by a math test at 30 min and 45 min7214–15One sessionPA session before testThe New York State Testing Program: a) number sense and operations, b) algebra, c) geometry and d) measurement; 4 five-minute testsStudents achieved 11–22% higher math scores at 30 min post PA compared with other time points+
 Thompson et al. (2016, USA)Cluster RCT, between-groups designSpecial 40 min PE class (min 20 of MVPA) directly before math test79110–11One sessionPA session before teststandardised Northwest Evaluation Association Measures of Academic ProgressNo statistically significant differences in change in math results0
 Travlos (2010), GreeceExperiment, within-subjects desingInterval aerobic run (four sets of 4-min run) PE lesson-before math test.4813–15Four daysPA session before testSimple addition problems; two min-speed and accuracy testNumerical speed and accuracy of students who attended the first, third, and fifth hour of the daily lessons increased, but there was a decrease in the sixth-hour lesson+
  1. + = positive effect; 0 = no effect; − = negative effect. MVPA moderate to vigorous physical activity, PA physical activity, RCT randomized controlled trial, PE physical education