Most people usually don’t think of the kids who excel in gym class to also have an academic advantage, but a small study conducted in Sweden suggests that physical activity in childhood increases learning ability. The positive effects of increased physical activity were still evident nine years later.
Swedish researchers studied 200 schoolchildren over nine years, beginning in grades one through three. The children were divided into two groups, one of which received physical education classes five days a week plus extra motor skills training, while the other group participated in the standard levels of physical education, about two to three times a week.
The results of the study show a clear correlation between physical activity in childhood and grades later on in life, especially for boys. 96 percent of the boys who participated in the elevated levels of physical activity “achieved grades that made them eligible to advance to upper-secondary school, compared with 89 percent of students in the control group” (US News).
Despite this evidence, in the U.S., most states don’t require kids to participate in gym class daily.
Educating the whole child
This study ties in with other evidence that strength in multiple areas of life is better for kids than narrowly focusing on one subject or activity. The widely-reported evidence that students who play musical instruments are better at math is another one.
Clearly, kids need to receive a well-rounded education that includes academics, arts, and physical activity — and they need to have these experiences all the way up through high school, not just in early elementary school. So why is our education system increasingly focused on test preparation and memorization of facts?
It is my hope that continuing research into the effects of the benefit of physical education, arts, and other non-traditional academic activities will eventually turn our education system back to what should be its primary goal — educating and nurturing the whole child.
Photo credit: Jose Kevo