November 26, 2007
Increased physical activity can positively affect academic
Dr. Dawn Coe, an assistant professor of exercise science
and fitness/wellness at Grand Valley State University in
Michigan reports, "Increased physical activity during the
school day may increase alertness and reduce boredom, which
may lead to increased attention span and concentration. It
is also suggested that increased activity levels might be
related to increased self-esteem, which would improve
classroom behavior as well as performance. It is possible
that vigorous activity [such as the level achieved by
playing sports] may provide the threshold level of activity
needed to produce these potentially desirable effects."
Students who increase their levels of physical activity can
not only improve their ability to do well academically,
they can also reduce their risk of obesity.
"Schools can play a critical role in increasing physical
activity by offering quality, daily physical education and
other opportunities to recreate. Physical education not
only gives children an opportunity to be active but it
teaches them the skills they need to be active throughout
their lifetime. ... Unfortunately, very few states require
daily physical education in grades K-12.
Whether or not a school is required by the state to offer
daily physical education is not always an indicator of
whether or not the students in that state are being active
during the school day.
"Just increasing the amount of time students are supposed
to spend in physical education class is no guarantee
they'll move more, a new study shows. Obesity experts have
been calling for children to go to gym class more often to
help stop obesity in young people. ... Most states
introduced legislation this year  and in 2005 to
toughen up PE requirements."
Mandating PE classes at the state or district level is
different that making time in the day for such classes at
the school level.
"The percentage of districts that require elementary
schools to teach physical education increased, to 93
percent last year  from 83 percent in 2000. But just
4 percent of elementary schools, 8 percent of middle
schools and 2 percent of high schools provided physical
education each school day, as is recommended by the disease
control agency. One-fifth of schools did not require
physical education at all. ... In some instances, Mr.
Wechsler said, states set policies that districts and
schools do not immediately embrace, particularly when
mandating physical activity. 'It takes a while for the
policies to go down,' he said. 'Local school districts just
havenŐt been able to figure out how to make time for
physical education in the school day.'"
Even those schools which have found a way to make time in
their school days for PE have not necessarily found a way
to get the students active.
"'Some schools are ignoring the laws and not meeting the
state requirements.' And some teachers are not keeping
children moving during class time, [John Cawley of Cornell
University] says. His research also showed that the amount
of time states required for physical education classes
didn't seem to have an effect on teens' weight or risk of
obesity. He says another study showed that 26% of schools
in the country fail to comply with state regulations for
PE, and research on elementary school students in a county
in Texas showed that the children did moderate to vigorous
activity for 3.4 minutes of a 40-minute class. About
two-thirds of class time was spent in sedentary activity;
one-quarter of the time was spent doing minimal activity.
'The real risk here is that states may increase the time
requirements, think they've addressed the problem of
childhood obesity and may move on to other priorities.'"
While taking time each day to be active is important, not
all schools have figured out where to find the time or how
to implement a quality physical education program once they
have that time scheduled. Some schools are being creative.
"A runner for many years, Principal Kim Pavlovich has
created a simple and inexpensive run/walk program that
gives her entire school community an alternative to the
couch and television. ... 'When I first began this program,
I had visions of myself running with our fastest, most
athletic students,' says Principal Kim Pavlovich. 'I
realized quickly that the biggest impact has been on those
students who are not the traditional athletes.' Three years
ago, Pavlovich established an after-school run/walk program
at Jefferson Elementary School in Blaine, Minnesota. As a
runner for many years, she hoped to use her experience to
motivate her students. ... Pavlovich's initial vision
involved 20 students running around a track with her. ...
She opened the program to the entire student body and had
about 100 students in the first year. ... Today, 480 out of
the school's 710 students take part, with all grade levels
For those who would like to implement a similar program in
their own schools, this principal has some suggestions.
"Pavlovich believes a successful program needs:
* a core group of staff/parents who are truly committed to
the idea and are willing to organize and run each week's
* a commitment to student safety. ... Several volunteers
are licensed health professionals who are available for
minor injury assessment and care. ... Safety patrols are
available to cross students at busy intersections during
* detailed, consistent procedures for arrival and
dismissal. Parents won't allow students to participate if
the event doesn't appear to be a safe, controlled
* good role models! The school schedules 'guest
runners/walkers' that include staff, firefighters, police
officers, the middle school principals, high school
athletes, and other community volunteers to run and walk
with the students."
Finally, for the classroom teachers who would like to see
the benefits for their students but have no control over
how much time the students spend being active in a
designated PE class, Dr. Dawn Coe reminds us:
"Even in the classroom, students can still get in some of
their recommended daily activity. There are many programs
classroom teachers can use to incorporate physical activity
into their lessons. There are lessons available for math,
science, social studies, and reading, just to name a few.
Classroom teachers can provide opportunities for activity
during the day, especially if the school does not have
required physical education classes, in order to help to
improve students' academic achievement. Short bursts of
activity throughout the day may help to decrease the
pent-up energy kids have. This may result in increased
attention spans and better behavior, which may help
students to perform better in school."
Questions of the Week:
What are the state requirements for physical education
classes where you live? Is your school meeting these?
Whether or not you school is setting aside the specified
amount of time required for PE classes, how much time do
you think the students in your school expected to be
physically active during a given school day? What can you
and your teachers (PE and non-PE teachers) do to help
students in your school be more active and reap the
benefits of a more active lifestyle?
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum