Middle school students who are more physically fit make better grades and outperform their classmates on standardized tests, according to a newly published study from a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
The study is among the first to examine how academic achievement relates to all aspects of physical fitness including endurance, muscular strength, flexibility and body fat.
It appears in this month's issue of the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness.
"Not only does improving fitness have physical health implications for the child, it also has implications for their academic achievement," said Dawn Coe, assistant professor in the UT Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies, and the lead researcher on the study.
"We know a lot of schools are cutting out physical education classes and physical activity opportunities throughout the day. Some of my previous research showed that if kids have one hour of physical education during the day instead of an academic class, they did not show a decrease in academic achievement compared with students who received an extra hour of academic instruction per day. By being active, they could potentially raise their grades."
Coe, who conducted the study while a doctoral student at Michigan State University, examined 312 sixth- through eighth-graders from a single public school in western Michigan. She conducted a series of assessments on the students including shuttle runs, curl-ups and push-ups. She then measured the children's academic achievement in four core classes over the course of one school year as well as their performance on a standardized test.
She found that the students with the highest fitness levels performed better on the standardized exam and earned better grades.
"Youth who are engaged in a physically active lifestyle reap benefits not only in their physical health but also in other aspects of their well-being, such as mental health and academic performance," the report states.