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Run! Jump! Learn!

New York Teacher

We know that physical education can help to combat childhood obesity, improve students’ health and build good exercise habits. But research is now making it clear that gym class can also boost children’s academic achievement.

Two new studies, detailed in the Research Shows column on page 19 of this New York Teacher issue, find that aerobically fit students are more than twice as likely to pass state tests in math and reading as students who are not physically fit.

Aerobic exercise produces a calming effect that makes it easier to focus on academics, the researchers note.

We hope schools and administrators pay attention.

A survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention two years ago found that nearly half of high school students said they had no physical education classes in an average week. In New York City, that number was lower, 20.5 percent, though up significantly from the 14.4 percent a decade earlier, according to the CDC.

Those findings echo a 2011 report by the New York City comptroller which found that many city elementary schools offer no physical education or not enough to meet state requirements.

Some schools in the United States may have cut gym classes in response to funding constraints or the growing emphasis on student test scores in math and language arts.

But the new research showing that aerobic fitness can help boost academics shows that even when schools are focused on student test results, cutting physical education is a bad idea.