Physical Education helps kids learn

Physical education classes have not traditionally been considered necessary for a successful academic career. Standardized tests now used in elementary schools emphasize reading and math to determine educational success.

A study just published in the Journal of American Public Health demonstrates that it is time to rethink this approach to education. The study showed that reading and math scores for female students between kindergarten and fifth grade were higher in those who spent 70 to 300 minutes per week in physical education classes. Scores were much lower for students who received less than 35 minutes per week.

Interestingly, the benefit was not seen in the student’s male counterparts. It is believed that boys are more active than girls in sports and may require even more time in physical education classes to realize a benefit.

The goal of the Healthy People 2010 federal health initiative is 30 minutes of physical education daily for all students. The hope is this will become part of each student’s lifestyle and carry over into adulthood. Currently less than 13% of students meet this target.

Many school districts have been under pressure to increase class time for math and reading in order to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind law. Most often this is done at the expense of art, music, and physical education classes.

Previous studies have shown that test scores can improve by changing class schedules to allow for sufficient sleep. Proper nutrition also enhances academic performance.
Educating children involves exposing them to a broad range of experiences, not just how to pass a test.

Physical education is an important part of the educational experience and cutting back shortchanges our children. We now have proof that reducing time in physical education class sets them up for failure in other areas.

Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is Chief of Neurology at The William W. Backus Hospital and in private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC, in Norwich. E-mail him at If you wish to learn more about the benefit of physical education for kids – or other sports health topics – listen to the podcast or go to the Healthy Sports blog at


Anonymous said...

You really hit the nail on the head with this article. Growing up, I never saw the point of gym class, but with child obesity on the rise, every little bit counts.

Thanks for bringing this issue to light and keep up the great work!

B. Arthur said...

I completely agree that PE is important. When I was in school, I never really saw the point to gym class, but with child obesity on the rise, every little bit counts.

Thanks for bringing this issue to light and keep up the great work!

Rebecca J. said...

More schools should put an emphasis on a physical education program that really gets kids out and moving. I wish more doctors would speak out and put this issue in the spotlight. Thank you for taking the time to educate the public!