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The trend towards reducing the amount of PE in schools has been changing with increased concerns about obesity and healthy lifestyles. Researchers found that students who have longer PE classes outperform their peers on math tests.
Data for this finding comes from a survey of elementary and middle public school students in the DC metropolitan area. The District serves as an excellent test for the effective of exercise on intellectual skills. DC implemented the Healthy Schools Act in 2010. This legislation mandated that schools incrementally increase the amount of PE for their students and also offer healthy lunches.
Schools struggled to meet the new PE targets, and some schools succeeded better than others. As a requirement for obtaining funding to implement this program, the legislation required that the schools report how they implemented it. This offers a wealth of data for researchers to examine the effects of increased levels of exercise on student performance.
American University conducted such a study. They divided the District’s elementary schools into four groups based on the amount of PE offered to the students. They examined data from schools with the lowest 25% amount of PE compared to the lower-middle amounts, the upper-middle, and the top 25%. The researchers then examined the average scores from the DC CAS math proficiency test for the school year 2012-13.
They found that schools that offered more PE had higher math scores. The results were rigorous enough to be published in the journal Appetite. One might expect differences in math scores to have a socioeconomic basis, but the schools that offer the most PE are not clustered in the wealthier neighborhoods.
Researchers also graded the schools on how they implemented different aspects of the program. These included offering ample time for PE, serving healthy lunches, and building school gardens.
There are some limitations to the findings according to the researchers. The schools self-reported, and many schools opened and closed during the period of the study. Nonetheless, these findings strongly support the trend of increasing the amount of PE for students.