Initially, researchers predicted that kids who took physical education (PE) during the school day would do better academically, since it helps reduce boredom and helps kids stay focused. The study, reported in ACSM’s official journal, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, examined 214 children of middle school age. All students were randomly assigned to a PE class in either the first or second semester of the school year. Researchers collected information on each student’s activity level in and outside of the PE class, and compared their level of activity to their grades in the subjects of math, science, world studies and English. Surprisingly, researchers found that being enrolled in PE (moderate activity for 30 minutes, 5 days per week) did not influence the children’s grades.
The government’s Healthy People 2010 guidelines recommend vigorous activity for 20 minutes, at least 3 days per week. This study showed that the more active children were, such as participating in a sport or other vigorous activity, the better they did in school. Most of the children who did exercise “vigorously” did so outside of school, by playing sports like gymnastics, soccer, basketball, football, baseball and softball.
These ACSM researchers recommend that physical education classes include more vigorous activities for kids. Other research also shows that active children do better in school, are better able to concentrate, and even exhibit fewer behavior problems. If your child’s school isn’t requiring enough physical activity, encourage your child to participate in a school or club sport that she enjoys. Sports teach kids more than fitness—they improve motor skills, increase self-esteem, and foster cooperation and teamwork. Even non-athletic children can meet physical activity recommendations with non-competitive activities like a tumbling or gymnastics class.