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Exercise yields academic success

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014 1:15 a.m. CST

I’m a firm believer in mandatory physical education in schools. Maybe you hated gym class, but I remember it as an opportunity to learn the fundamental skills required for participation in numerous sports and recreational activities.

In grade school and high school, I learned the basics of track and field, basketball, volleyball, tennis, golf, gymnastics, and if you can believe it, trap shooting. I grew up in more innocent (and rural) times, as you might have gathered.

Mandatory P.E. even followed me beyond high school. My college required students to take P.E., and I enjoyed a May term spent learning to paddle a canoe. 

To me there is a natural link between classroom and physical education, but some people do not realize the important relationship between physical fitness and academic success. 

Numerous studies show that increased levels of physical activity and fitness have a positive impact on learning. The latest studies show that grades and standardized test scores improve with increased physical activity and aerobic fitness, especially test scores in mathematics. Other studies show that physical activity has a positive effect on children’s memory, attention, information processing, and problem solving skills.

Physical activity seems to enhance other skills that are valuable in the academic environment like behavior, concentration, and classroom participation. Physically fit pupils also appear to be absent from school less frequently.

While still mandatory in Illinois, P.E. classes seem to have been increasingly crowded out of the school day, with students spending fewer days and minutes learning skills that might help them remain active for the rest of their lives.

Hopefully that will change in the near future. Gov. Pat Quinn recently signed two bills designed to improve physical education in Illinois schools.

One specifies that professionally trained P.E. and health teachers be recognized as “highly qualified,” similar to teachers of other subjects.

The other bill implements physical fitness assessments to help students set individual goals, to help teachers address student needs, and creates a system to monitor the fitness levels of Illinois youth over time. 

Students are back in school now and, hopefully, back in the gymnasium. If you have a child in school, please encourage them to participate as fully in their gym class as they do in all others. You might even require “homework” by shooing them out the door for some active play time every day.

It wouldn’t hurt to join them – many of the brain benefits of being more physically fit apply to adults, as well.

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