(NaturalNews) Middle school students who are more physically fit get better grades and perform better on standardized tests, according to a study conducted by researchers from Michigan State University (MSU) and published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness.
According to lead researcher Dawn Coe, the new study is the first to connect academic performance to a holistic measure of physical fitness that includes body fat, endurance, flexibility and muscular strength.
"We looked at the full range of what's called health-related fitness," said Coe, who now works as a professor at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. "Kids aren't really fit if they're doing well in just one of those categories."
The researchers looked at data from 312 sixth through eighth graders at a West Michigan school. Fitness was measured by students' performance on standardized exercises, such as push-ups and shuttle runs. The researchers then compared the children's fitness scores to their grades in four core classes over the course of a school year, as well as to their scores on a standardized test. They found that across the board, children who scored highest in overall fitness also got the highest standardized test scores and the highest grades. This effect was independent of gender or whether a child had gone through puberty or not.
P.E. cuts counterproductive
The study is also the first to connect fitness to both objective (standardized tests) and subjective (teacher-determined grades) measures of academic success. It is part of a growing body of evidence linking a person's physical condition to their educational achievement.
A 2010 study that looked at every Swedish male born between the years of 1950 and 1976, for example, found that the men with the healthiest heart rate at age 18 also scored highest on intelligence and cognition tests. Cardiovascular fitness at age 18 was also highly predictive of both educational and financial achievement later in life. Other studies have shown strong connections between physical fitness and cognitive performance in both children and the elderly.
Unfortunately, children and youths in the Western world are becoming less and less fit. A 2010 study conducted by researchers from Essex University found that based on tests of physical strength, the average 10-year-old in 1998 could outrun 95 percent of 10-year-olds in 2008. This effect could not be explained by rising obesity rates, as the children in the two groups were of roughly equivalent weights.
James Pivarnik, co-author of the new study, said that the findings suggest that the trend of schools cutting physical education in order to prioritize standardized test performance are counterproductive.
"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," Pivarnik said. "That's the exciting thing ... if we can get people to listen and have some impact on public policy."
"Fit kids are more likely to be fit adults. And now we see that fitness is tied to academic achievement. So hopefully the fitness and the success will both continue together."