Forget the meathead jock stereotype. As it turns out, the fittest kids on the playground are also the ones who excel at standardized tests and get good grades. New research from the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness makes this connection between children’s academic performance and physical fitness.
The researchers examined the full range of so-called health-related fitness. In order for a kid to be classified as fit, she needs to excel in several categories, including measures of body fat, muscular strength, flexibility and endurance. The researchers collected data from 312 students in 6th through 8th grade at a Michigan school. They measured their subjects’ fitness with a program of push-ups, shuttle runs and other exercises. They compared those fitness scores to students’ classroom grades throughout the school year and also took a look at how they performed on standardized tests.
The results revealed that the fittest students received the highest test scores and best grades, regardless of gender or whether they’d hit puberty.
This finding implies that making fitness a bigger part of children’s lives earlier on may set them up for future success since grades matter even at young ages and fitness habits tend to roll over into adult life. At the same time, schools that consider cutting their physical education programs in order to focus on core subjects may want to reconsider, since standardized test scores often affect a school’s funding and prestige.
“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,” the authors said in a statement. “That’s the exciting thing, is if we can get people to listen and have some impact on public policy.”
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