Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Health Sciences


Rehabilitation Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Esther E. Dupont-Versteegden

Second Advisor

Dr. Joneen Lowman


Physical activity in schools improves academic performance and fitness measures in children. However, state policy supporting implementation of physical activity remains poor. Identifying specific barriers to implementing physical activity minutes in Kentucky public schools is pivotal in preserving the cognitive and physical health of our children. This is of particular interest as physical activity minutes remain low despite the positive effects of exercise on cognition. The purpose of this dissertation is to provide policymakers and school administrators a method of identifying current policies, attitudes and infrastructure that inhibit the implementation of physical activity minutes in public schools. Thus, the findings, which include further evidence of the positive effect of exercise on the brain, can be disseminated to policymakers and administrators.

This dissertation is grounded in a theoretical approach to assist school administrators in implementing physical activity minutes. Barriers to the implementation of physical activity minutes were identified by a systematic review followed by a 14-item survey study of Kentucky school administrators and teachers. From the results of the survey study, a white paper was presented which addressed current Kentucky policy and recommended feasible changes. Finally, a functional MRI (fMRI) study was conducted to build on and provide mechanistic evidence for the effects of an acute bout of exercise on brain connectivity.

The systematic review of barriers to implementing physical activity minutes in elementary schools determined that lack of priority, lack of professional development, and lack of funding contributed to poor levels of physical activity minutes. The results of the 14-item (8 likert scale and 6 open-ended questions) survey found a significant difference in median scores between administrators and PE teachers on the priority of physical education in comparison to other academic subjects (p value = .05; Prob> |Z| = .0063, Prob> |Z| = .0073, and Prob> |Z| = .0006). Qualitative content analysis resulted in 63 total codes with lack of time (19), low priority (15), and lack of/inadequate funding (11) as the top three categories. I also showed that frontoparietal network connectivity was increased (p=.06) after an acute bout of vigorous exercise in children aged 7-11 years (n=3), indicating a positive effect of physical activity on attention.

Policymakers and school administrators need a clear, feasible picture of the importance of adding and prioritizing physical activity minutes in schools. This prioritization comes from improving our understanding of school-based barriers and providing feasible solutions to these barriers. In addition, improving our understanding of how acute bouts of physical activity affect brain connectivity can be an additional motivating factor.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

This study was supported by the Endowed University Professor in Health Sciences in 2019.

Available for download on Saturday, May 25, 2024