Fast food and nutritionally-vacant school lunches are often blamed for childhood obesity–and rightly so. But there’s another component to the expanding waistlines of kids, and it’s not only robbing them of a happy, healthy childhood, it’s also negatively impacting their report cards. According to an international study reported by Reuters, children who are physically active are not only in better shape, physically–they also perform better in the classroom. Maybe it’s time to get P.E. off the chopping block?
Feeling the heat of standardized tests which determine funding and access to necessary materials, as well as shortened school years and reduced class time (one small city in Washington state is considering cutting the school week down to just 4 days), many schools across the country are shaving off “non-academic” periods of the school day, like recess and gym class. But according to this study, which is published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine and evaluated the data from 14 other studies on the subject and compiled the information, the exact opposite is the case. In every study the researchers looked at, they found that kids who got more exercise performed better in mathematics, spelling, and reading–the exact areas that educators and administrators are emphasizing by cutting activity time.
This finding shouldn’t surprise anyone–health advocates and blogs are always telling grownups that getting in a good workout is a great way to re-focus and get your mental health in order, so why would we expect different results in children? Additionally, increased blood flow to the brain, especially at a young age, has been shown to improve mental performance. Thus, cutting recess and P.E. seems pretty counter-intuitive.
The researchers added that the exercise in question doesn’t need to take place in schools–it could happen at home, too–but, unfortunately, it isn’t…and expecting that it will is pretty misguided. In a study released last spring, researchers found that 41% of children get less than an hour of exercise per week. And according to figures from Gallup, year after year, adults and children alike are exercising less and less, which means it’s unlikely that parents will be encouraging their kids to get outside and move. Requiring that schools set aside at least some time–based on the knowledge that it will improve classroom performance–might help get more kids moving, more often.
Emphasizing academics is important, especially during tough economic times, when a sound education is one of the best defenses. But if schools are edging out time for exercise in favor of time spent studying, they may be shooting themselves (and the students) in the foot. It’s time to reevaluate what’s considered “academic”, and stop looking at fitness as an elective.