Many schools across the country are cutting back on traditional physical education programs because of financial concerns and competing academic demands. However, children could be losing out on more than just a time during the day to release energy. Physical activity is shown to have positive benefits not only on health, but also in academic performance.
The latest study to find this association is published in the January issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. Researchers from Vrije Universiteit (VU) University Medical Center in the Netherlands conducted a review of a total of 14 studies that looked at the relationship between physical activity and academic achievement in reading, math, world studies, and history. The majority of these studies was carried out in the US and evaluated thousands of participants between the ages of 6 and 18 over periods of time ranging from 8 weeks to over five years.
The overall conclusion was that those children who were active in sports or other physical activity programs tended to have better academic performance. The researchers suggest that exercise may enhance brain function and thinking skills by increasing blood and oxygen flow to the brain. Activity also triggers the release of mood-enhancing hormones such as endorphins.
In addition to these physiological effects, says Amika Singh PhD, “Regular participation in sports activities may improve children’s behavior in the classroom, increasing the odds of better concentration on the academic content of these lessons.”
Current recommendations state that children should engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. In a fact sheet jointly written by the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Heart Association, the authors make the great point that it is reasonable for children to get at least 30 minutes of that time at school with a quality physical education program that enhances their physical, mental, and social/emotional development.
Unfortunately, only 3.8% of elementary schools, 7.9% of middle schools, and 2.1% of high schools provide daily PE or its equivalent for the entire school year. Twenty-two percent of schools do not require physical education at all.
Strategies that will help improve physical education in schools include:
· Mandate that all school districts develop and implement a planned K-12 physical education curriculum that adheres to national and state standards.
· States should hire a physical education coordinator to provide resources and offer support for school districts throughout the state.
· Schools should ensure that their programs have appropriate equipment and adequate facilities to provide a physical education program.
· Students should not be allowed to opt out of PE classes to prepare for other classes or tests nor be allowed to substitute activities such as sports, ROTC, or marching band in place of regular physical education.
Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012;166:49-55. Abstract