Extracurricular activities for physical activity

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Some Evidence

Strategies with this rating are likely to work, but further research is needed to confirm effects. These strategies have been tested more than once and results trend positive overall.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers
Date last updated

Extracurricular sports or after school athletic activities provide opportunities for children and adolescents to play soccer, tennis, baseball, softball, volleyball, football, basketball, and various other sports at beginner, intermediate, and competitive levels. Activities are offered at differing skill levels to encourage participation regardless of skill. Before and after school programs can also include physical activity components such as dance, fitness breaks, or physically active games, often as part of healthy out of school time initiatives.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Increased physical activity

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Improved physical fitness

  • Reduced obesity rates

  • Increased academic achievement

  • Reduced arrests

  • Reduced teen pregnancy

What does the research say about effectiveness?

There is some evidence that increasing access to extracurricular sports, athletic activities, and active after school programs increases children’s physical activity during leisure time, especially when offered as part of a multi-component physical activity promotion program1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Participation in extracurricular sports and activities is associated with higher physical activity levels for children and adolescents3, 5. Access to publicly provided recreation programs can reduce children’s risk of overweight and obesity2. Overall, public high school students from families with low incomes in urban areas that participate in athletics (except football) have lower BMIs than their peers9. Participation in at least three hours of sports per week appears to increase physical activity levels10, fitness, and total lean body mass for boys4.

Overall, physical activity interventions during school hours have been shown to increase the duration of participants’ physical activity and reduce time spent watching television. Such interventions can also increase physical activity rates in some circumstances. However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects of such interventions on physical activity during out of school time11.

Extracurricular physical activity programs are also positively associated with strong academic performance12, low juvenile arrest rates, and low teen birth rates13. A Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program (CSPAP) can include physical activity programming outside of the school day which may contribute to improvements in students’ math and reading scores14.

Experts suggest increasing the frequency of extracurricular activities offered may increase participants’ overall physical activity. Tailoring activities can engage girls at levels nearly equal to boys, as well as engage students with lower levels of physical activity15.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated no impact on disparities likely.
Implementation Examples

Efforts to increase extracurricular physical activities for youth can be part of broad community initiatives that encompass policy, systems, and environmental changes, as in Hamilton County, OH16 or programmatic efforts, as in the YMCA Afterschool Food and Fitness Project7. Extracurricular activities, sports leagues, or active after school programs can be run by schools, non-profit organizations, local YMCA or JCC chapters, or parks and recreation departments17, 18, 19, 20.

Many national non-profits provide resources and tools to encourage after school programs to adopt healthy out of school time practices, including increased opportunities for physical activity, for example the National Institute on Out-of-School Time21, Healthy Kids Out of School22, and the Bright Futures child health promotion initiative23. Building Healthy Communities makes programming for increasing students’ healthy eating and physical activity available to all public, charter, and private nonprofit schools in Michigan24.

Professional sports leagues have also developed youth programs and initiatives to increase extracurricular physical activities and sports participation, for example Major League Baseball25, the National Football League26, and the National Basketball Association27.

Implementation Resources

AFHG-OST - Alliance for a Healthier Generation (AFHG). Out-of-School Time.

HOST-PA - Healthy Out-of-School Time (HOST) Coalition. Resources: Physical activity (PA).

LHC-Rockeymoore 2014 - Rockeymoore M, Moscetti C, Fountain A. Rural childhood obesity prevention toolkit. Leadership for Healthy Communities (LHC), Center for Global Policy Solutions, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; 2014.

WeThrive-Toolbox - WeThrive!, Hamilton County Public Health. Toolbox and resources used as part of the WeThrive! initiative.


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1 Verstraete 2007 - Verstraete SJM, Cardon GM, De Clercq DLR, De Bourdeaudhuij IMM. A comprehensive physical activity promotion programme at elementary school: The effects on physical activity, physical fitness and psychosocial correlates of physical activity. Public Health Nutrition. 2007;10(5):477–84.

2 Wolch 2011 - Wolch J, Jerrett M, Reynolds K, et al. Childhood obesity and proximity to urban parks and recreational resources: A longitudinal cohort study. Health & Place. 2011;17(1):207-14.

3 Lubans 2008 - Lubans D, Morgan P. Evaluation of an extra-curricular school sport programme promoting lifestyle and lifetime activity for adolescents. Journal of Sports Sciences. 2008;26(5):519–29.

4 Ara 2006 - Ara I, Vicente-Rodriguez G, Perez-Gomez J, et al. Influence of extracurricular sport activities on body composition and physical fitness in boys: A 3-year longitudinal study. International Journal of Obesity. 2006;30(7):1062–71.

5 CFLRI-Cameron 2005 - Cameron C, Wolfe R, Craig C. Physical activity and sport: Encouraging children to be active. Ottawa, CAN: Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute (CFLRI); 2005.

6 Beets 2013 - Beets MW, Huberty J, Beighle A. Systematic observation of physical activity in afterschool programs: Preliminary findings from Movin' Afterschool intervention. Journal of Physical Activity & Health. 2013;10(7):974-981.

7 CDC PRC-YMCA afterschool - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Prevention Research Centers (PRC). Food and fun afterschool program: YMCA-Harvard Prevention Research Center food and fitness project.

8 Barr-Anderson 2014 - Barr-Anderson DJ, Singleton C, Cotwright CJ, Floyd MF, Affuso O. Outside-of-school time obesity prevention and treatment interventions in African American youth. Obesity Reviews. 2014;15(4):26-45.

9 Elkins 2004 - Elkins WL, Cohen DA, Koralewicz LM, Taylor SN. After school activities, overweight, and obesity among inner city youth. Journal of Adolescence. 2004;27(2):181–9.

10 Jago 2014 - Jago R, Sebire SJ, Davies B, et al. Randomised feasibility trial of a teaching assistant led extracurricular physical activity intervention for 9 to 11 year olds: Action 3:30. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2014;11:114.

11 Cochrane-Dobbins 2013 - Dobbins M, Husson H, DeCorby K, LaRocca RL. School-based physical activity programs for promoting physical activity and fitness in children and adolescents aged 6 to 18. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2013;(2):CD007651.

12 CDC-School PA 2010 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The association between school-based physical activity, including physical education, and academic performance. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (U.S. DHHS); 2010.

13 Cohen 2007 - Cohen DA, Taylor SL, Zonta M, Vestal KD, Schuster MA. Availability of high school extracurricular sports programs and high-risk behaviors. Journal of School Health. 2007;77(2):80–6.

14 Somers 2016 - Somers CL, Centeio EE, Kulik N, et al. Academic and psychosocial outcomes of a physical activity program with fourth graders: Variations among schools in six urban school districts. Urban Education. 2019;54(9):1349-1369.

15 Jago 2019 - Jago R, Tibbitts B, Sanderson E, et al. Action 3:30R: Results of a cluster randomised feasibility study of a revised teaching assistant-led extracurricular physical activity intervention for 8 to 10 year olds. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2019;16(1):1-15.

16 WeThrive-Community wellness - WeThrive!, Hamilton County Public Health. WeThrive! Community wellness in action.

17 US ED-21st Century CLC - U.S. Department of Education (U.S. ED). 21st Century community learning centers (CLC).

18 YMCA-Sports - Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). Swim, sports & play.

19 JCC-Fitness - Jewish Community Center Association (JCC), DiscoverJCC.com. Programs and services at JCCs of North America: Health & fitness.

20 NRPA-Recreation and health - National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). Recreation and health.

21 NIOST-Healthy OST - National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST), The Y (YMCA), University of Massachusetts Boston College of Nursing and Health Sciences. Healthy out-of-school time (OST).

22 Healthy Kids-OST - Healthy Kids Out of School, Child Obesity 180, Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.

23 Bright Futures-Extracurricular PA - Bright Futures at Georgetown University. Bright Futures in practice: Physical activity tool D: Characteristics of excellent physical activity programs for children and adolescents.

24 MI-BHC - Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Building Healthy Communities Program.

25 MLB-Youth programs - Major League Baseball. MLB youth baseball programs and initiatives.

26 NDC-Play 60 - National Dairy Council (NDC), National Football League (NFL). Fuel up to play 60: Playbook.

27 NBA WNBA-FIT - National Basketball Association, Women's National Basketball Association. NBA/WNBA FIT program: Be active, eat healthy, play together.