IS PHYSICAL EDUCATION IMPORTANT?
Do you worry that physical education classes take precious time away from
your kids' studies? Then you should know what the research shows. According to
a 2010 CDC review of 50 studies spanning 23 years, children who are physically
fit and active often do better in the classroom than those who aren't active.
Physical activity increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain and may boost the
growth of nerve cells in the hippocampus -- the brain's center of learning and
Phys ed classes offer kids many
other benefits as well. So what goes on in these classes? And what can you do if
your child hates gym class? WebMD asked health experts to answer questions you
may have about PE.
What's Being Taught In PE?
You might be surprised. The old standbys -- volleyball, soccer, and
basketball -- are still around. But many school gym classes have also branched
out to help kids discover other physical activities that they may enjoy for a
"The more innovative kids' physical education classes are teaching a wider
variety of skills these days," says Cheryl Richardson, senior program manager
for physical education for the National Association for Sport and Physical
Education. "Gym classes might include skateboarding, rock climbing, or in-line
The newer activities can draw in kids who aren't interested in traditional
competitive sports. "A PE program should deliver activities that kids at all
levels can enjoy," says Jenna Johnson, an exercise physiologist at Sanford
Health in Fargo, N.D. "The goal is to expose them to activities they might not
otherwise experience and help develop their skills in a non-threatening
Why Are Gym and Recess So Important?
"Physical education in schools is one of the most important ways to help
fight childhood obesity," says Joseph A. Zenel, MD, executive director of
medical education at Sanford Health and professor of pediatrics at the Sanford
School of Medicine in Sioux Falls, S.D. "Because kids are in school for so much
of the day, it's a great opportunity to have a real impact on their overall
But many schools have scaled back or eliminated PE classes to save money.
Schools are also under pressure to decrease PE time and instead increase math,
English, and science instruction to improve their students' standards-based test
A study in 2000 found that only about 6% of high schools and middle schools
and 8% of elementary schools with PE requirements provide year-round daily PE
instruction for all grades. And although the National Association of State
Boards of Education recommends 150 minutes of PE per week for elementary school
children, a study of third-graders found that 33 minutes a week was more
"This is too bad because PE and recess offer many benefits to kids," Johnson
Some of these benefits include:
- Higher grades. Studies have shown that children who spend more time
being active at school may have better grades and do better on standardized
tests. Experts believe that physical activity may help concentration and
behavior and improve academic achievement.
- Better sleep. "Getting enough sleep is really important for kids,"
Zenel says. "And being more active during the day is a great way to help kids
sleep better at night."
- Social skills. PE class and recess offer a less-structured time for
children to develop social skills. "These are often the only times during the
school day when children can interact with one another and learn to work out
problems on their own," Richardson tells WebMD.
- Lifelong fitness habits. Physical education classes help kids
experience the joys of being active. "If we can expose kids to different
activities when they're young, it's more likely they'll stay physically active
as adults," Zenel says.
- Better self-esteem. Being involved in physical activity makes kids
feel good and can help improve their confidence and self-esteem.