Middle-school students with higher levels of physical fitness fared better on standardized tests than students who were less fit, according to research presented at the American College of Sports Medicine's 57th Annual Meeting in Baltimore in June 2010.
The study suggests that cutting physical education classes to focus on academics might be counterproductive.
Researchers studied 338 sixth-grade students at a small, urban middle school in central Illinois, finding that students who were more fit tended to show stronger academic achievement.
Students meeting cardiovascular fitness standards "were six times more likely to meet or exceed Illinois reading standards and over two-and-a-half times more likely to meet or exceed the math standards," said Ronald W. Bass, lead researcher of the study.
Bass' study found significant correlations between boys' reading scores and both body mass index and their ability to perform curl-ups. Girls' cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength correlated to math scores. There was also a significant association between cardiovascular fitness and reading scores.
More, not less emphasis on physical education urged
Researchers say the results, reinforcing previous studies linking physical activity and academic performance, have clear implications for policy makers.
"The emphasis on standardized test scores has meant less funding for physical education and physical activity in schools," Bass said. "Given the increasing body of knowledge on the subject, schools may want to place more emphasis on physical education and physical activity programs not only to improve students' health but to raise their academic achievement as well."
Source: American College of Sports Medicine