The physical benefits of PE (physical education) cannot be argued with, but recent studies show that PE also has neurological benefits which may previously have been overlooked. Educators say there is a growing body of research showing that physical activity, even something as subtle as doing stretches at their desks, will improve children's ability to learn.
When the body is engaged in physical exercise, blood flows quickly and more vigorously to all parts of the body, including the brain. Blood carries oxygen with it; and the brain loves receiving excess oxygen! Higher amounts of oxygen encourage the brain to work at optimum capacity by causing nerve cells to multiply, strengthening their interconnections and protecting them from damage. Exercise also has the following positive effects on the brain:
- The production of nerve-protecting compounds
- Improved development and survival of neurons
- Decreased risk of cardiovascular diseases
Take the example of Meadow View Elementary in Farmington, MN, as reported by HERÓN MÁRQUEZ ESTRADA of the Star Tribune.
In the fall of 2012, when students at Meadow View Elementary needed to improve their reading scores, the school turned to Physical Education teacher, Joe McCarthy.
Reports Estrada: “Each morning for months, McCarthy had the students spend 15 minutes running or shuttling from side to side in the gym. It wasn't any type of punishment, but part of a growing trend in education that focuses on increased physical activity to improve learning.”
The students were selected based on their scores in the 2011 fall state assessments. When the students took the tests again, after McCarthy's exercise regimen, they showed the greatest improvement of any students at Meadow View, double the school average. ”And all we did was move more," McCarthy said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a paper in 2010 urging more physical activity for students because of the health and academic benefits. "There is substantial evidence that physical activity can help improve academic achievement, including grades and standardized test scores," the CDC report concluded. Studies involving millions of students in California and Texas demonstrated the connection. Researchers from Harvard and the University of Illinois also have shown how scores and learning improved with more physical activity.
The bottom line
If your children are lucky enough to attend a school where PE is offered, encourage them to participate! They will not only reap the physical benefits you are already aware of, but now you know that their academic performance will benefit as well. If you need more convincing, let's revisit Meadow View Elementary and see how the students are faring today: Meadow View is in the top 3 percent of schools in Minnesota for academic performance based on the state assessment tests. The school is a finalist for a $25,000 regional prize for being a leader in developing physical fitness curriculum and a possible finalist for a $100,000 national prize, all because of the school’s innovative approach to improving its students’ reading scores through PE.