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The Effects of Physical Activity on Learning and Academic Performance

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This paper discusses the many reasons for physical activity to be included in school programs in the form of physical educational classes and unstructured free time. Both the physical and the cognitive benefits that children receive from physical activity are discussed. With childhood obesity on the rise, it is more important than ever to increase physical activity in schools. Sadly, not all schools understand that. Accelerated by the No Child Left Behind program, education facilities around the country are considering eliminating these health programs for students in order to make more time for academic study. Children need to not only learn the importance of living a healthy lifestyle, but also how to do that. The cognitive benefits received from being more active throughout the day help to boost the academic performance of children and their learning improves greatly.

The Effects of Physical Activity on Learning and Academic Performance

Physical activity is a very important and often over looked aspect of a student’s academic performance. Countless studies have shown positive associations with physical activity and increased cognitive abilities in the classroom. Despite this information and the growing obesity epidemic, schools boards around the country are decreasing or getting rid of physical education classes and unstructured free time. Removing this time from a student’s day would do more harm than good by limiting their cognitive functions. Now more than ever our schools need to utilize health programs for students and provide them with time to be active every day.

Being active is an extremely important aspect of good health. It has countless physical benefits for both adults and children. One of the most widely known benefits of exercise is its ability to decrease a person’s risk for Cardiovascular Disease and other conditions such as Type II Diabetes. Physical activity also promotes: healthy growth and development; better self-esteem; a stronger heart; a healthy weight; social interactions with friends; better focus and concentration during school; and stronger bones, muscles, and joints (Signh, 2012). It is important for a child to be physically healthy if they are to perform their best mentally in the classroom.

        Along with the countless health benefits of physical activity, active children also receive a number of cognitive benefits. Research has shown that being active helps children to concentrate more intently and focus better. It also promotes better behavior in the classroom and has been shown to relieve depression, stress, and anxiety (Vail, 2006).  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention commented: “students perform and behave better in school when they participate in P.E. class, spend time in recess, are given brief classroom activity breaks, and participate in extracurricular physical activities” (Physical, 2008). When the students are given this outlet for their energy, they tend to like school more and are better motivated to complete their work when instructed to do so.

Physical education classes play a major role in the development of healthy life long habits. It is in these classes that children learn the importance of health and how to test their own level of physical fitness. These classes teach children many life lessons through the use of sports, exercises, games, and free time.  It is important that children are provided this safe structured environment while learning to exercise and play sports. Although these classes are critical in forming life-long habits, physical education classes do not provide the same benefits as unstructured free time.

Recess is often under-appreciated and looked upon as merely play time, but it is much more than that. Unstructured free time provides children with cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits. This time allows children to self-teach themselves and provides them with opportunities to be creative and to form bonds with peers (Ramstetter, 2010). During this time children learn many skills that can only be taught during play such as perseverance, sharing, how to lose and win, and how to be a part of a team.  Recess perfectly complements a physical education class by teaching a child many other aspects of fitness and how to incorporate it into activities that they enjoy. Studies show that “kids pay more attention to academic tasks when they are given frequent, brief opportunities for free play” (Ardoy, 2014). This shows that unstructured free time benefits not only the students, but the teachers as well. Their lectures may have breaks, but the children are more focused, better behaved, and learn the information easily.

Despite the countless benefits associated with physical activity for children and its links to increased cognitive functioning, schools are still cutting out physical education programs. This was greatly accelerated by the No Child Left Behind Program and the emphasis that it puts on standardized test scores (Vail, 2006). Federal funding for many schools has also limited the funding that it provides based on standardized test scores as well. Because of the previous mentioned situations, school faculty members are beginning to support the elimination of recess and P.E. in favor of more standardized test preparation.



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