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Active Kids Do Better in School

Fitness News Flash

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A recent study conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) investigated the link between physical activity in children and academic performance in school. 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 soccer, basketball, football, baseball and softball.

Action Sparked: 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. Team 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 such as biking, swimming and jogging and by dancing or playing games like tag.
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About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, Nicole loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Nicole was formerly SparkPeople's fitness expert and editor-in-chief, known on the site as "Coach Nicole." Make sure to explore more of her articles and blog posts.

Member Comments

  • As a kid who wasn't terribly athletic, PE taught me that exercise is boring, hard, and humiliating. Judging from so many similar comments, it seems like a common experience. Certainly it wouldn't take a great deal of creativity to overhaul PE curriculum to teach fitness on a more personal level. Honestly, had my 8th grade gym teacher not berated me for not being able to run a mile and taught me the proper way to run, maybe I would have learned to enjoy running 25 years sooner than I did. - 2/3/2015 3:26:58 PM
  • John Ratey, MD wrote a book called Spark. He shares success stories including a high school in Chicago in which the PE teachers revolutionized how they taught PE class. The standardized test scores went up.It's an excellent book.

    http://www.spar
    kinglife.org/

    There are a lot of factors why kids may not do well in school. Exercise before school starts seems to "get the energy out" and helps kids retain more information and to learn better even if they've got terrible circumstances.

    Exercise certainly might be a good thing to start earlier in life. My dad played baseball in high school and was quite good. Not good enough to go to do it professionally. Yet, he was dead set against exercise as a formal practice. He was hateful of PE class. It's not an exaggeration. At the time when my body was changing from child to adolescent, I gained lots of weight. I ran around the farm as a kid so I was literally a skinny stick of a kid. I had to learn to exercise once I left home.

    School should be about reading, writing and arithmetic. A lot of kids don't get enough exercise especially today when parents are scared their kids will be kidnapped or killed and so kids stay stay inside "where it's safe".
    - 2/3/2015 2:57:41 PM
  • Let's differentiate between being active and playing in organized sports.
    In addition to being a soul-sucking time drain for parents, the risks associated with competitive sports must be high.
    This is purely anecdotal, mind you; I recently had to go through physical therapy for a back problem, and I found the number of children undergoing post-surgical therapy for injuries sustained while playing organized sports to be alarming.

    And don't get me started on the horrendous amount of education tax dollars wasted on competitive sports.
    Gym class and recess? Yes.
    PIAA sports teams? NO. - 2/3/2015 11:25:52 AM
  • In my mind, the most important thing sports teaches kids is that you can do your best and still lose. That's a painful thing to learn, and it can be heartbreaking to watch your kid go through that. But life will hand you those lessons in time; better to learn it early, while improving your self-esteem and sense of self.

    And I was one of those kids who never participated in sports and hated PE. I was a kid pre-Title IX. I'm amazed by the young women I see today who were encouraged to participate in sports. They're strong. They're confident. They will accomplish great things in their lives, and perhaps be great role models for the next generation. Brava, ladies! - 10/21/2014 4:56:03 PM
  • thats great!! physical/out door games keep kids fit and strong, they help them to regain the energy rather than this video games!! - 9/12/2014 5:36:22 AM
  • Great article. Kids are way different when we came up. They are so lazy. - 10/27/2013 11:43:02 AM
  • I agree that physical activity is a must for children, but I disagree that mandatory PE or more vigorous activities are the answers. When I was a kid we had required PE (we called it gym back then) through 9th grade and it was torture, bad for my self esteem and havoc on my GPA because I could never do well in PE. If PE classes were tailored to the physical level of the individual child, that would be great but it isn't. It forces kids to be what they aren't. If I could have walked around the track for an hour instead of being forced to play soccer on a team that didn't want me on it, or volleyball, or whatever the game of the week was, I might have learned to enjoy physical fitness at a much younger age and stayed in much better physical shape than I did. - 10/26/2013 11:33:03 AM
  • My BF is a 3rd grade teacher. She can attest that the days without PE or recess outside are harder to teacher because they are so ansy.

    PE or recess SHOULD be MANDITORY - at least thru middle school

    - 11/13/2012 6:05:02 PM
  • UILSKUIKEN
    Whether PE is great or not depends almost completely on the teacher. Some are grossly incompetent. I had an overweight teacher who could never demonstrate anything she demanded we do. This wasn't a problem for me most of the time, since I was a skinny kid with good coordination, but I remember when she tried to force a girl with two left feet to jump over the horse again although she had broken her arm on the first try. And I remember the time when she, because I'd climbed a rope up to the ceiling without waiting for permission, started jangling the rope so I almost fell fifteen feet and my fellow students had to stop her. She could have killed me. The problem is not just that many of them are physically in terrible shape, but that some of them have obvious mental issues, and are cruel, and stupid, and bullies as some comments already mentioned. That is a much bigger problem. - 8/27/2012 9:35:55 PM
  • HARMBRUSTER
    Now could you explain that to my 1st grader who whines as we walk to school and home each day. LOL! - 8/27/2012 1:11:10 PM
  • Why criticize a poll for not bothering to define the many types of families?

    This poll did not presume to define "family." I took family to mean the family you choose to define. This could be three roomies or a couple or one parent with a foster child or whatever. I chose to define family as the four adults who don't always live under the same roof but we define ourselves as family.

    Please, everyone, feel free to choose how to define your own family. Don't expect a little SP poll to do that for you.

    - 8/27/2012 11:39:59 AM
  • I had already thought that I would start having Jake walk jog with me in the morning this just makes me know I was right and we will be starting in the morning - 8/27/2012 10:01:13 AM
  • This is part of why I have put my step-son in football. He's getting overweight, has some behavior issues at school (yet not at home...) and his PE at school is a joke. He definitely needed something extra-curricular to help out. He loves it! He's not very good at it yet, but his community league is very good. He plays outside at least an hour a day at home, but needs that extra push. - 8/27/2012 9:17:03 AM
  • I HATED PE with a passion. I basically got dressed, did the warm ups, and stood there. This was the minimum I had to do to pass. If it weren't for marching band and my discovery of solitary walks in the woods I would have been completely inactive. I've tried to be open minded about PE with my kids but they aren't athletes either and similarly hate it. I'm all for encouraging activity, dh and I do try to engage the kids in family walks, but PE is not necessarily the way to do it. Its not well rounded enough. Its all about sports and some kids could care less about sports. - 7/25/2011 9:00:22 AM
  • I totally disagree with this article. I was required to take P.E. everyday until I was a senior in high school. My grade point actually improved when I did not have to take P.E. P.E, did more to damage your self esteem than any other class. In other classes if you do not have the skills needed on the first day of class, they work with you and teach you. Not in P.E. you need to be a star athlete on the first day of class.

    P.E. in my experience is where a lot of bullying takes place, and it is encouraged by the teacher.

    - 7/25/2011 7:25:41 AM

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