Despite Cognitive Benefits, Only 30% of Students Get Daily Physical Education in School

By Dan Peterson, TeamSnap's Sports Science Expert


It’s one of those head-scratcher scenarios of overwhelming evidence recommending a behavioral change only to have the public continue to be stuck in its old habits. Smoking, overeating and rooting for the Cubs have all been proven to be detrimental to your health, but we keep doing them anyway. Now, add one more to the list. While keeping kids active at school will help their physical and mental well-being, physical education classes and recess often get sacrificed for more classroom time. In fact, a new report from the Society for Research In Child Development details how fitness grows a student’s brain, allowing her/him to perform better on standardized academic tests, the holy grail of public school achievement.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, along with the NFL, NBA and several other sports organizations recommend that kids get 60 minutes of physical activity/play/movement every day. Traditionally, this advice was meant to keep young waistlines under control, but new research has been showing how fitness directly impacts brain growth and learning.

Unfortunately, the CDC tells us that only 30 percent of children received daily physical education opportunities in 2012. In fact, over half did not get any type of planned activity during a school week.

With so much emphasis placed on academic performance and passing scores on standardized exams, it would seem that school administrators would take advantage of (and parents would demand) any research-based tactic to help students learn faster.

Research summarized in a monograph by Dr. Charles Hillman, professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, showed that the basal ganglia and hippocampus regions of the brain are larger in students who are more fit than their peers. Since these two areas help with cognitive control, learning and memory, these kids perform better on tests of academic prowess as well as a practical test of crossing a street safely.

Additional studies showed that this brain growth and performance can be achieved by kids over time with increased movement and exercise. So, even with students who are overweight and inactive, progress can be made both physically and mentally when they get up and move.

"These results point to the important potential of approaches focusing on physical activity for strengthening children's brain health and educational attainment,” said Dr. Hillman. “It is important for state governments and school administrators to consider this evidence and promote physical activity in the school setting, which is where children spend much of their time."

So often, in the race to achieve better grades and scores, physical education or even recess seems like wasted time at school. Actually, a healthy dose of fresh air and kickball will help quicken the full development of a growing brain.

bio pic

Dan Peterson is a recovering sports dad who is fascinated with sports science research, skill development and the athlete’s brain. He has written over 400 science-based articles across the Web and consults with parents, coaches and young players to help them understand the cognitive side of sports. You can visit him at Sports Are 80 Percent Mental and at @DanielPeterson.

Release Date: Apr 27 2015

Create Your Team Today!

It’s Free and Free is Good!