More and more schools are cutting out physical education (PE). The goal is to increase students’ academic achievement by offering more academic classes. In this study, researchers test the idea that increased exercise improves school performance.
Children in sixth grade at one school in western Michigan were included in this study. The effect of PE and overall physical activity on grades was measured for one school year. The 214 boys and girls enrolled in the study included whites, Hispanics, Asians, multiracial, African-Americans, and Native Americans.
Students were in a daily PE class for one semester. They also filled out a survey reporting on their daily physical activity. Grades for each student in math, science, social studies, and language arts were used as a measure of academic success.
The authors found that being in a PE class did not influence grades. Only about 19 minutes of the 55-minute PE period was spent in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.
Students who engaged in vigorous physical activity outside of school did have higher grades compared to those with moderate levels or no activity. Vigorous activity was judged based on standards set by the federal government in its Healthy People 2010 guidelines.
The authors say it is possible that a higher socioeconomic status could be a factor for students with better grades who reported a vigorous level of physical activity. Analysis of the results suggests that at least some of the improved academic performance can be linked with increased activity. Increasing the level of activity in PE classes may be one way to improve grades in middle school students.