A systematic review of previous studies in this month’s Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Health confirms what has been confirmed many times before: There is an association between physical activity and academic performance in children.
Physical activity in children peaks in early adolescence and declines significantly thereafter. The Cooper Institute tested the fitness of 2.6 million Texas children in 2008. More than 33 percent of girls and more than 28 percent of boys in the third grade passed six fitness tests. That number decreased at each grade level, with less than 9 percent of 12th graders meeting healthy standards on the six tests. One study pegged the greatest decline in physical activity between the ages of 13 and 18 as students take on increasing academic responsibilities and acquire drivers’ licenses. Others say the decline is more pronounced between ages 15 and 18.
Schools at all levels, strapped for funds and striving to improve academic performance, have decreased or eliminated physical education. But studies have consistently shown that time devoted to physical activity does not harm academic performance and, in some cases, has enhanced achievement. Better fitness has been shown to increase concentration, school attendance and positive classroom behavior while decreasing disciplinary problems. The Cooper Institute testing found significant school-level correlations between fitness and better performance on state standardized test and fewer disciplinary problems involving drugs, alcohol and violence.
Of 14 studies published between 1967 and 2006 analyzing the link between physical activity and academic performance, 11 found a positive association. About 2,000 California schoolchildren were given fitness and standardized academic tests. About two-thirds of students were below the state fitness standard for their grade levels, and standardized test scores dropped more than one point for every extra minute it took to complete the one-mile walk/run test.
It is ironic that the U.S. education system is trying to improve academic performance by cutting back on what is scientifically proven to improve academic performance.