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Study Links Physical Fitness, Academic Performance for Middle-Schoolers

by Craig Odar | Aug 01, 2011
Fitter students make the grade on standardized tests

BALTIMORE – Cutting physical education classes to focus on academics might be counterproductive, according to research presented today at the American College of Sports Medicine’s 57th Annual Meeting in Baltimore.

A study showed that middle-school students with higher levels of physical fitness fared better on standardized tests than students who were less fit. The study involved 338 sixth-grade students at a small, urban middle school in central Illinois, and showed 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.

Researchers say these 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.”

Questions of education policy, standardized testing and strategies for boosting student achievement are coming into sharp focus with the impending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in Congress.

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The conclusions outlined in this news release are those of the researchers only, and should not be construed as an official statement of the American College of Sports Medicine.

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