A new study of middle school students discovers kids in the best shape outperform their classmates in the academic arena.
Researchers from Michigan State University found that students in the best physical shape outscored their classmates on standardized tests and take home better report cards. The data could also support the conclusion that the smartest kids are often the ones also in best physical shape.
The study, published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, is the first study linking children’s fitness to both improved scores on objective tests and better grades.
Researchers also say that the study is among the first to examine how academic performance relates to all aspects of physical fitness — including body fat, muscular strength, flexibility and endurance.
“We looked at the full range of what’s called health-related fitness,” said lead researcher Dawn Coe, Ph.D. “Kids aren’t really fit if they’re doing well in just one of those categories.”
Coe and colleagues gathered their data from 312 students in sixth through eighth grade at a West Michigan school. They gauged the kids’ fitness with an established program of push-ups, shuttle runs and other exercises.
The researchers then compared those scores to students’ letter grades throughout the school year in four core classes and their performance on a standardized test.
The results showed the fittest children got the highest test scores and the best grades, regardless of gender or whether they had yet gone through puberty.
But since the results they found were correlational and couldn’t establish which way the relationship went, the researchers’ data could also say that the smartest kids also usually are the fittest.
The researchers say that results should be a warning to schools that cut physical activity opportunities to allow students to focus on core subjects. But it could just as well be taken as a warning that cutting academic opportunities may contribute to the epidemic of obesity in this country.
Paradoxically, this action may undermine students’ success on the standardized tests that affect school funding and prestige, said co-author James Pivarnik, Ph.D.
“Look, your fitter kids are the ones who will do better on tests, so that would argue against cutting physical activity from the school day,” said Pivarnik, an MSU professor of kinesiology. “That’s the exciting thing, is if we can get people to listen and have some impact on public policy.”
Making fitness a bigger part of children’s lives also sets them up for future success, Pivarnik added.
“Fit kids are more likely to be fit adults,” he said. “And now we see that fitness is tied to academic achievement. So hopefully the fitness and the success will both continue together.”
Source: Michigan State University