As school districts strive to boost their students' scores on standardized tests, physical education classes often suffer cuts in favor of time in the classroom. In grades 1 through 5, approximately 50% of schools require phys ed in each grade. But by grade 8, only 25% of schools require it — a figure that drops to only 5% by grade 12. Could the declining emphasis on exercise at school be affecting kids' academic achievement?
Researchers from Michigan State University in East Lansing and Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas, examined the possible relationship between time spent in physical education and academic achievement. A group of 214 sixth graders from Michigan were divided into two groups: Half of the students took daily PE classes (about 55 minutes long) during the first semester from August to mid-January, while the other students took computer or art classes.
In the second semester from mid-January to June, the students switched schedules. In August, January, and May, researchers measured the students' heights and weights and evaluated their semester grades. The students also reported any physical activity outside of school throughout the study.
The results showed that although participation in physical education classes didn't seem linked to improvement in students' grades in their core classes, it wasn't associated with a decrease in their grades either. But researchers also noted that little of the time spent in phys ed class was actually spent exercising: Only 19 minutes of the 55-minute class period was spent in moderate to vigorous activity.
The authors suggest that such low levels of activity may not provide enough stimulation to improve students' grades, as suggested by previous research. In fact, in this study, students who performed vigorous physical activity outside of school did achieve higher grades than less active students.
What This Means to You. In this study, participation in daily PE classes wasn't associated with improvement in students' grades, but the lack of actual activity in those classes may be a factor, since students who engaged in vigorous exercise outside of school showed higher academic achievement. Encouraging your child to participate in sports or physical activities outside of school — especially those that focus on vigorous activity — may help boost your child's performance in the classroom.
Source: Dawn Podulka Coe; James M. Pivarnik; Christopher J. Womack; Mathew J. Reeves; Robert M. Malina; Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, August 2006.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: September 2006