One of the negative outcomes of our commitment to No Child Left Behind, as well as our fixation on test scores, is that physical education programs in many schools have disappeared, especially in high schools. This is true whether you are looking at public, charter or private schools. From a study completed in 2009 by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, they write:
In schools across the United States, physical education has been substantially reduced— and in some cases completely eliminated—in response to budget concerns and pressures to improve academic test scores.
In education we made the false assumption that scheduling more time for reading and math instruction will help students become better readers and problem-solvers. Asking students to spend more time within their structured learning environment doing activities liking reading, writing, and math does not necessarily translate into higher student achievement in those areas. I don’t mean to suggest that students shouldn’t spend time reading, writing and doing math. However, we should ask the question what is the appropriate balance of intensive minds-on activities linked to classroom learning versus time spent inside and outside in structured and non-structured physical activity and play.
The study also discovered that:
Yet the available evidence shows that children who are physically active and fit tend to perform better in the classroom and that daily physical education does not adversely affect academic performance. Schools can provide outstanding learning environments while improving children’s health through physical education.
The percentage of children with obesity in the United States has more than tripled since the 1970s. Today, about one in five school-aged children (ages 6–19) has obesity.
Physical activity, recess and physical education classes, should be an integral part of every child’s educational experience. Clearly, as students move from kindergarten to high school the ratio of recess to physical education should decrease. All high school students should be expected to be in some physical activity every day. It is important to note that not all high school students participate in sports, which we assume can substitute for physical education.
How would students’ academic achievement, engagement and interest in school increase if their minds and bodies were challenged through physical activity? Neuroscience would support the relationship between brain health and physical activity.
Neuroscientists around the globe agree that physical activity is the best medicine to maintain brain health throughout your lifespan. Why is physical activity so good for your brain? (Psychology Today, 2014)
There are many reasons why this correlation is supported by scientific research. Some of which are:
- increased blood flow, which improves cerebrovascular health
- the release of neurotrophic factors like BDNF (Brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which stimulates the growth of new neurons
- benefits of glucose and lipid metabolism which bring nourishment to the brain.
Therefore, schools need to pay close attention to whether they are giving students sufficient time to recharge their batteries through recess, physical education activities, or other kinesthetic outlets that honor the connection between mind and body.