Relating Physical Education and Activity Levels to Academic Achievement in Children

Article excerpt

What Was the Question?

Despite the increasing number of overweight and obese children in the United States, many schools are cutting physical education programs or reducing physical education requirements in favor of offering more academic courses. Such curricular changes are aimed at increasing students' academic achievement, but are not necessarily supported by research, as previous studies have shown positive relationships between academic achievement and physical activity or participation in sports.

Coe, Pivarnik, Womack, Reeves, and Malina (2006) hypothesized that increased physical activity, including the activity from physical education classes, could lead to better classroom performance because of the positive effects it has on arousal level, concentration, and self-esteem.

What Was Done?

The researchers enlisted 214 sixth-graders from one public school in western Michigan. Students were divided into two groups: a physical education class and an "exploratory class" (i.e., computer science or art). Both classes met every weekday for 55 minutes during one semester.

The data measured over the course of the school year for the two groups of students included height, weight, body mass index, amount of physical activity outside of school, academic grades, and fitness instruction time in physical education classes.

Students were asked about physical activities they had engaged in outside of school in the three days previous to class. The activities were divided into 30-minute time blocks, for which students were asked to identify the activity and its intensity level. The number of moderate-intensity and vigorous-intensity activity blocks and their corresponding MET values (i.e., energy required for the activity) were used to assess the students' overall activity level outside of school. Physical education classes were observed four times during the semester, and student activity levels--specifically quantity and type of physical activity--were recorded and analyzed. Academic achievement was measured from standardized test scores and students' grades in math, English, science, and world studies.

What Was Found?

The main finding was that enrollment in physical education classes was not related to academic achievement scores, but involvement in vigorous physical activity was. …