Physically active kids tend to do better in school than their more sedentary friends.
Daily physical education (PE) classes may provide the opportunity for children to meet health authority guidelines for physical activity. Unfortunately, many schools have reduced PE requirements and some have actually eliminated programs. Typically, the amount of PE each child receives decreases as they get older.
In the past, the rationale for replacing PE classes with other classes was because of an idea that it would increase a student’s academic achievement. However, researchers have failed to find clear evidence that academic achievement will improve if PE classes are cut.
In fact, many studies have shown a positive relationship between academic achievement and either physical activity or sports participation. Students may actually improve their academic achievements because of increased arousal and reduced boredom that ultimately increases their attention span and concentration.
Increased activity levels might also be related to increased self-esteem, which could be expected to improve classroom behavior as well as academic performance.
In an attempt to clarify this issue, scientists conducted a study to determine whether PE class enrollment and overall physical activity affected academic achievement in 200 sixth grade school children over the course of a year.
For the first part of the year, half of the students took the general PE class offered by the school, while the other half took part in a non-PE course. Halfway through the school year they switched.
The researchers found that students taking the PE course did no better or worse in their academic classes. But wait … there’s more.
Students who participated in vigorous physical activities such as football, or even activities such as skateboarding, did approximately 10 per cent better in their academic grades in mathematics, science, English and social studies.
“Considering all the factors that go into what determines students’ grades in school, a 10 percent increase by the most physically active kids is huge,” one researcher observed.
“Physical education and activity during the school day reduce boredom and help keep kids’ attention in the classroom. We were expecting to find that students enrolled in PE would have better grades because of the opportunity to be active during the school day. But enrolment in PE alone did not influence grades.
“The students who performed better academically in this study were the most active, meaning those who participated in a sport or other vigorous activity at least three times a week.”
So what does this mean for teachers setting out class timetables?
This study suggests daily PE won't hurt academic performance. And regular vigorous activities might actually help boost those end of year marks.
Coe DP, Pivarnik JM, Womack CJ, Reeves MJ, Malina RM (2006). Effect of physical education and activity levels on academic achievement in children. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 38: 1515-1519.
- Assoc Prof Gordon Lynch is Research Manager of www.fitness2live.com.au
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