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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Can Exercise Improve Grades?

We buy flash cards, hire tutors, and sign our kids up for enrichment classes. These (sometimes costly) tools are are meant to help our students do better in school.

Could something as simple as PE really improve grades or test scores?!

Scientists are very interested in the relationship between exercise and academic performance and recent studies done at the University of Central Florida and by the State of California suggest that there is a connection between exercise and better grades.

Movement potentially increases brain function, and that improves concentration levels. Edison Elementary school in Missouri changed the dynamics of their classrooms in an effort to better support the active children in the classroom. Any student, primarily the boys, who could not stay seated during class was allowed to stand at the back of the classroom. If a child got out of hand, they were allowed a "cool off" period for taking a walk. Since making these changes, the school's test scores increased dramatically.

How exactly does exercise help kids think? Exercise allows more blood to flow to the brain. More blood changes hormone levels, and helps the brain take in more nutrients. "Beez" Schell, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology at Sonoma State University points out, "When you ask people how they feel after they exercise, they will tell you they are more awake and more alert." Since exercise also increases energy levels, it increases the stamina and helps relieve boredom for studying. Not surprisingly, better physical health improves self-esteem which has a ripple effect throughout a child's life.

Schell explains that the Fitnessgram program, developed at the Cooper Institute in Texas, was used in 2002 to measure the academic and physical fitness of 5th, 7th and 9th grade California students. Six fitness components were measured, including muscular fitness, cardiovascular fitness, flexibility and body composition. The students who did well in at least three components scored higher on the STAT9. Even more astonishing, those students who did well on all six components had the highest STAT9 scores.

Delaine Easton, State Superintendent of Public Instruction found the results exciting, "This statewide study provides compelling evidence that the physical well-being of students has a direct impact on their ability to achieve academically."

"The healthy, physically active child is more likely to be academically motivated, alert, and successful," agrees Karen McGahey, principal of Grant School in Petaluma. For several years, Grant's PTA has raised money to help pay for a PE specialist. Interestingly, the school's standardized test scores have been high for several years and fifty percent of Grant students did well on all six Fitnessgram components. Grant's fitness scores are double the state average!

While educators are not willing to come out and say that exercise causes good grades, the won't discount it either. As Tom Ormond, Department Chair of the Kinesiology Department at Sonoma State University points out, "Lets take PE out of mix and see how far we get."

Ormond also points out that age appropriate movement is really important. First graders should not be moving the same way a 5th grader would. Schell points out that appropriate instruction is crucial as well. "It is important for parents to encourage their schools to get qualified PE teachers ... recess isn't enough."