RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA--As public schools across America trim their budgets, one of the first casualties is gym class. Sadly, eliminating gym classes not only cuts into children’s physical fitness, it diminishes their intellectual performance as well. Research from the California Department of Education reveals that children who are more fit perform twice as well on academic tests as their unfit peers. And a panel of researchers who conducted a massive review of over 850 studies on the effects of physical activity on school-age children corroborates those findings. The researchers found that 30 to 45 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise 3 to 5 days a week enhanced memory, concentration, mood, classroom behavior, self-concept, and academic performance in the kids. The panel recommended at least one hour a day of moderate to vigorous exercise to optimize children’s cognitive development, as well as physical health.
Clearly there’s a mind-body connection here. And hard science backs that up. In the last decade, neuroscientists have discovered the biological mechanisms underlying the relationship between exercise and intellectual performance. Aerobic exercise increases the body’s production of nerve growth factors that stimulate the brain to create more connections between brain cells. And that enhanced connectivity among brain cells enables new learning to take place more rapidly, and durably. Add that to a recent study reported on Rodale.com, which showed that kids who are active in school also tend to get more exercise during non-school hours, and the value of physical education becomes a no-brainer.
WHAT IT MEANS: With the brain-boosting and health-enhancing benefits of exercise well established, how can schools help children get the exercise they need to keep their minds sharp and their bodies healthy? Parents need to get involved by observing gym classes or talking with their kids and their gym teachers to find out how the classes are currently conducted. After that, they can start a dialog with teachers, coaches, and administrators. Here are some changes to ask for; chances are your school won't be able totally revamp its physical education program all at once, but these are worthy goals that can help shape the conversation: