Research Reveals an Essential Connection Between PE and Academic Performance

The research is clear: There is a significant, positive and directly proportionate connection between school PE and academic performance. Children benefit from daily physical activity in multiple ways, many of which support their achievement in subjects like math, science, social studies and Language Arts. Schools and districts that prioritize movement during the school day are serving their students’ needs not just on a physical level, but also on social, psychological, emotional and academic levels as well. So why aren’t more schools making it a point to prioritize daily physical activity for their students?

Kids Aren’t Moving Their Bodies Enough—And Their Academic Performance is Suffering

In 2010, the federal government set a researched-based recommendation for how much moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) children should engage in on a daily basis for their health. The daily minimum that researchers determined was 60 minutes per day of activities like walking or running, playing basketball or tag, dancing or riding a bike, or anything else that gets the heart pumping. This daily minimum has been found to improve health, protect against preventable diseases, and promote overall quality of life.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children benefit in multiple ways when they meet that recommended minimum of 60 minutes of MVPA per day. Most schoolchildren aren’t able to meet that minimum, however, due to academic achievement standards and resulting pressure on schools to decrease recess and Physical Education time in favor of more core curricular instruction time. The unfortunate irony is that decreasing PE time in order to improve students’ academic performance is counterproductive.

Daily Physical Activity Improves Learning and Coping Skills

The physical health benefits of daily movement are perhaps the most obvious and well known to most people. PE class helps children develop their gross and fine motor skills and improve their strength, balance and cardiovascular health. Many may not recognize, however, that PE class also offers children myriad social, mental and emotional benefits that in turn improve their learning and academic performance.

For example, students learn better when their bodies are calm and in control, when they are able to focus, and when they possess strategies for managing stressful situations. Daily physical activity helps them develop all of these skills. Recess and PE help children develop empathy, cooperation and respect for others. Kids who move their bodies on a regular basis experience both personal and social benefits from working through the variety of challenges and feelings they experience during MVPA. All of these benefits translate directly to the classroom and academic achievement.

Daily physical activity has also been proven to offer cognitive benefits such as better concentration and mental alertness, which help children have the focus and energy they need to tackle academic challenges. Furthermore, physical activity has been shown to improve recall and memory, including the ability to move newly acquired information from short-term memory to long-term memory. This aids in students’ learning of facts, dates, vocabulary words and other important elements of their academic lessons.

Daily physical activity also improves student learning via the simple fact that improved physical health means fewer school days missed due to illness or injury, and more time in school means more opportunities for learning and academic achievement.

We Believe in the Long-Term Importance of a Physically Active Childhood

Research supporting the need for increased physical activity among people of all ages is abundantly clear. At Marathon Kids, we believe deeply in the importance of laying that foundation early. Children who develop the habit of being physically active from a young age have a much stronger likelihood of staying active throughout their lives, and that has multiple long-term health benefits.

The Marathon Kids program is based on cumulative mileage accrued over time. This emphasis on building slowly toward a long-term goal helps children develop skills that apply directly to their academic development as well. Setting goals and mapping out the step-by-step process to achieving them are skill sets that kids can use in all areas of their lives, including their core curriculum classes. Setting their own paces and tackling distances that match their own, individual abilities and fitness levels helps children learn to stretch themselves in ways that are right for them—regardless of what their peers might be accomplishing.

While the Marathon Kids mission focuses specifically on running (and walking), the benefits of regular exercise come from any type of aerobic physical activity. Still, research shows that the Marathon Kids program increases kids’ chances of meeting the recommended daily minimum of 60 minutes of MVPA. Schools that incorporate the Marathon Kids program into their daily schedules are making an important commitment to their students’ health in both the short and long term, by giving children the opportunity to improve their physical health, decrease their stress and anxiety levels, and shine academically.