NFL PLAY 60 FitnessGram Project: Sports and fitness in one evidence-based program!

Blog Post

Andjelka Pavlovic, PhD
The Cooper Team
May 8, 2023

In honor of National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, we would like to highlight important research from the NFL PLAY 60 FitnessGram Project. This initiative brings together the various components of NFL PLAY 60 and measures their impact on youth health through physical fitness assessment (i.e. FitnessGram®).

Since 2009, The Cooper Institute and the NFL Foundation have worked diligently to bring physical activity and fitness resources to schools across the country. Research from this large cohort has provided opportunities to advance both the science and practice of physical education programming in the United States.

In 2017, an important research study conducted by The Cooper Institute examined the impact of schools utilizing the NFL PLAY 60 initiatives on youth health-related fitness, specifically cardiorespiratory fitness and body mass index (BMI). The study compared schools that voluntarily participated in the NFL PLAY 60 programs (e.g. Fuel Up to Play 60, NFL FLAG, PLAY 60 Challenge, etc.) to schools that did not participate in these initiatives.

The results revealed that schools participating in the programming had significantly larger annual improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness (as measured by the PACER test) as well as significant improvements in BMI over time compared to the non-programming schools (Figure).

Furthermore, schools that implemented the programming for a full four years showed better improvements when compared to schools that participated for only two to three years. This is the first study to examine the long-term impact of prominent comprehensive school-based models, such as NFL PLAY 60 when implemented under real-world conditions.

The study concluded that the utility of the NFL PLAY 60 physical activity programming is a potentially viable intervention to help improve youth physical fitness. These findings are extremely important considering the high rate of obesity in America, coupled with the global cost of physical inactivity. Reversing these trends in youth is critical, and implementing evidence-based physical activity programming, combined with FitnessGram assessments, may help improve overall childhood health.

Figure.Cardiorespiratory fitness Healthy Fitness Zone Achievement (i.e. PACER test),assessed longitudinally over a 4 year period, in boys and girls participatingin the NFL PLAY 60 FitnessGram Project.

Reference: YangBai, Pedro F. Saint-Maurice, Gregory J. Welk, Daniel W. Russell, et al.,(2017). The Longitudinal Impact of NFL PLAY 60 Programming on Youth AerobicCapacity and BMI, American Journal ofPreventive Medicine, 52(3),


Stay in touch

Subscribe to our email list for the latest Cooper Institute news and updates.