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Physical Education Helps Students Academically

Perhaps we should blame the aggressive chlorine smell from the towels; maybe an inopportune crack from Mr. Biller, the gym teacher, or maybe the kids who made fun of our knees and calves. But a lot us have less than flowery memories of pys ed. In fact, some people may think of physical education as only a way of meeting government standards, one of the least useful hours in the school day. In fact, though, physical education benefits students in academic areas as well, and we’ll explore that further.

Data on Phys ed and Overall Academic Performance

In short, we have a large amount of data overwhelmingly showing a connection between physical education and overall academic performance. The CDC helps us rein a lot of this information in. The organization mounted a large audit of the research in existence and published it in its 2010 report, “The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance.”

Suffice it to say, yes, students who participated in physical education fared better academically. To sum very briefly, measures for this were attendance, concentration, grades, years of school completed, and performance on standardized tests.

A study not including in this CDC review was published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2008. It used a longitudinal study of elementary school students and found (though we should note this was only among girls) a positive connection between enrollments in higher amounts of p.e. and excellent results in the core areas of math and reading.

The connections, specifically

One wants to make sure there’s causation and not just correlation, or that the studies were somehow not a fluke. Besides the fact that the CDC isolated fourteen different studies, thus locking in a clear link, it also looked at various scientific inquiries into the mechanisms that would lead to improvement. The things that physical activity do for student include increases in:

  • neurotransmitter levels
  • growth of nerve cells in the hippocampus
  • brain tissue volume

These yield results such as better information processing and improved attention.

There have also been studies and programs in which physical activity was shown to help students with Attention Deficit-Disorder and other needs for remediation in reading comprehension and similar areas.

Connecting What is Interconnected

If people still feel that despite its benefits, physical education still doesn’t merit space in the curriculum, considering pressing need for improvement in many core areas, one trend that may be cheering is the increasing integration of standard academic subjects into phys ed.

Math is a very common target in this approach. There are plenty of lesson plants asking students to count while dribbling a basketball, forming themselves into groups of a certain number during a tag-like game, etc. Math facts math has students dribble to spots on the floor where math questions are located, answer the question, and then move on. Outside of math, let’s not forget geography golf.

Physical education seems to help students by fueling the mind, creating a physiological environment that facilitates learning in standard academic topics.

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