Why Physical Education?

What Research Has to Say ...


This packet documents the need for physical education.


Additional Articles To Explore

Ahamed, Y., Macdonald, H., Reed, K., Naylor, P.J., Liu-Ambrose, T., & McKay, H. (2007) School-based physical activity does not compromise children's academic performance. Medicine and Scinece in Sports and Exercise, 39(2), 371-376.

Buck, S.M., Hillma, C.H., & Castelli, D.M (2008). The reation of aerobic fitness to stroop task performance in preadolescent children. Medicine and Science Sports and Exercise, 40(1), 166-172.












Carlson, S.A., Fulton, J.E., Lee, S.M., Maynard, M., Brown, D.R., Kohl, III, H. W., & Dietz, W.H. (2008). Physical education and academic achievement in elementary school: Data from the early childhood longitudinal study.American Journal of Public Health, 98(4), 721-727.

Castelli, D.M., Hillman, C.H., Buck,S.M., & Erwin, H.E. (2007). Physical fitness and academic achievement in third- and fifth-grade students. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 29(2), 239-252.

Coe, D. P., Pivarnik, J. M., Womack, C. J., Reeves, M. J., & Malina, R. M. (2006). Effect of physical education and activity levels on academic achievement in children. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 38, 1515-1519.

Davis, C.I., Tomporowski, P.D. Boyle,C.A., Waller, J.L., Miller, P.H., Naglieri, J.A., & Gregoski, M. (2007). Effects of aerobic exercise on overweight children's cognitive functioning. A randomized controlled trial. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 78(5), 510-519.

Dwyer, T., Coonan, W.E., Leitch, D.R., Hetzel, B.S., & Baghurst, R.A. (1983). An investigation of the effects of daily physical activity on the health of primary school students in South Australia, International Journal of Epidemiology, 12(3), 308-313.

Grissom, J. B. (2005). Physical fitness and academic achievement. Journal of Exercise Physiology, 8, 11-25.

Hillman, C.H., Erickson, K.I. & Kramer, A.F. (2008). Be smart, exercise your heart: Exercise effects on brain and cognition. National Review of Neuroscience, 9(1), 58-65.

Mahar, M.T., Murphy, S.K., Rowe, D.A., Golden, J., Shields, A.T. & Raedeke, T.D. (2006). Effects of classroom-based program on physical activity and on-task behavior. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 38, 2086-2094.

Nelson, M.C., & Gordon-Larsen, P. (2006). Physical activity and sedentary behavior patterns are associated with selected adolescents health risk behaviors. Pediatrics, 117, 1281-1290.

Shephard, R. J. (1996). Habitual physical activity and academic performance. Nutrition Reviews, 54(4), S32-S36.

Shephard, R. J. (1997). Curricular physical activity and academic performance. Pediatric Exercise Science, 9, 113-125.

Shephard, R.J., Lavallee, H., Voile, M., LaBarre, R., & Beaucage, C. (1994). Academic skills and required physical education: The Trois Rivieres experience. CAHPER Journal Research Supplement, 1, 1-12.

Sibley, B.A. & Etnier, J.L. (2005). The relationship between physical activity and cognition in children: A meta-analysis. Pediatric Exercise Science, 15, 243-256.

Stevens, Tara A.; Yen To,; Sarah Stevenson,; Marc Lochbaum,. "The importance of physical activity and physical education in the prediction of academic achievement.(Report)." Journal of Sport Behavior. University of South Alabama. 2008. Retrieved August 25, 2009 from HighBeam Research: http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-188739131.html

Taras, H. (2005). Physical activity and student performance at school. Journal of School Health, 75, 214-218.

Tremarche, P.V., Robinson, E.M., & Graham, L.B. (2007). Physical education and its effect on elementary testing results. Physical Educator, 64, 58-64.

Trost, S.G. (2007). Active education: Physical education, physical activity and academic performance (Research Brief). San Diego, CA: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Active Living Research. Available: www.activelivingresearch.com/alr/alr/files/Active_Ed.pdf

Wilkins, J.L., Graham, G. Parker, S., Westfall, S., Fraser R.G., & Trembo, M. (2003). Time in the arts and physical education and school achievement. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 35, 721-734.

Table of Contents 

Case for Physical Education

Physical Benefits

Academic Benefits

Senate Bill

Psycho/Social Benefits

NASPE - Why Children Need Physical Education


The Case for Physical Education


Laurie Priest

October, 1993

Today, education programs at all levels face intense criticism, and physical education programs are no exception. In fact, as school budgets shrink and administrators cut "frills," physical education may be one of the first programs to go. If we are to secure a place for physical education in the school curriculum, we must answer two questions: (1) What are the physical, psychological, and intellectual effects of physical education upon the total development of the child? and (2) Given these effects, can physical education be considered a frill?


What are the physical benefits of physical education?

Recent research has shown that degenerative diseases begin in early childhood. As Kaercher (1 98 1) wrote, "There's increasing evidence in youngsters of high cholesterol in the blood, high blood pressure, obesity and other conditions that are associated with heart disease, stroke and other disorders" (p. 20). Bucher (1982) stated that medical specialists blame deaths due to heart disease, cancer, and stroke largely on "changes in lifestyle characterized by factors over which doctors have little or no control" (p. 13).


Research suggests that regular physical activity, begun in childhood, may help prevent degenerative diseases. According to Hanson (1974), "The necessity of physical activity for a growing child is well-documented in terms of growth and fitness needs. Physical activity increases muscle tone, improves respiration and circulation, benefits digestion, aids in controlling obesity, promotes rehabilitation after illness and surgery, and stimulates proper growth and development. Physical benefits alone could be sufficient reason for supporting physical education programs..." (p. 2). And Reiff (1977, p. 26) reported that high school students involved in an eight-week program of physical activity showed gains in fitness.


In addition, Fentem and Bassey (1982) pointed out that "Exercise is a valuable adjunct to dietary control in prevention and treatment of obesity because it increases energy expenditure and improves energy balance" (p. 2).


Studies indicate that children in free play settings will not engage in physical activity vigorous enough to produce physical benefits or enhance health, thus supporting the need for physical education (Reiff 1977, p. 26).


What are the psychological/social benefits of physical education?

Physical activity enhances a person's life both socially and psychologically. Studies have shown that physical activity may modify anxiety and depression (Sachs 1982, p. 44). Layman (1972, p. 5) gave evidence that poor physical condition predisposes individuals to poor mental health. Hanson (1974, p. 2) stated that "physical activity contributes to the general feeling of well-being .... It is an avenue for expression of anger, aggression and happiness . . a means for discovery of self as well as a social facilitator." Moreover, according to Espenschade (1960), "The status of the elementary school child with his peers is dependent to a great extent on his motor skills and his behavior in game situations" (p. 3). Clarke (1982, p. 10) added to these statements, suggesting that the child's realization of personal and social effectiveness relies heavily on guidance within the physical education experience. Guidance helps the individual adopt desirable modes of behavior and improve interpersonal relationships.


What are the mental//intellectual benefits of physical education?

Research shows a positive relationship between physical activity and academic achievement. In one study, begun in 1951 in an elementary school in Vanves, France, the school day was divided so that four hours were devoted to academics and one to two hours to physical education, art, music, and supervised study (Bailey 1976). By 1960, not only were health, fitness, discipline, and enthusiasm superior in the experimental program, but academic performance also surpassed controlled classes. Similar experiments in Belgium and Japan produced comparable results (Carlson 1982, p. 68), illustrating the importance of physical education to a successful academic program.


How does physical education affect children's development of wholesome recreation habits?

The importance of wise use of leisure time was supported as early as 1918 in the Seven Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education (National Education Association). Children need recreational skills and a positive attitude toward exercise to enhance their use of leisure. Indeed, "Research indicates that motor skills learned in physical education classes may be the stimulus for increased activity during leisure time (Seefeldt 1977, p. 3). Gilliam and others demonstrated that physical education programs involving vigorous activities encourage participants to use leisure time more actively (p. 3). Thus, physical education can play a major role in promoting an active, healthy lifestyle.



Research indicates that regular physical education, included in children's school curricula, produces physical, psychological, and intellectual benefits. Physical education may help prevent degenerative disease, improve overall physical condition, maintain emotional balance, promote a sense of social effectiveness, contribute to academic performance, and establish positive recreation habits. Therefore, physical education must not be considered a curricular frill; rather, it must be supported as an integral part of comprehensive education.

For further information, write to American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 1900 Association Drive, Reston, VA. 22091.


Academic Benefits and Physical Education

Trois Study

A study was conducted in Trois Rivieres, Ontario, Canada with 546 primary school students who received an additional five hours per week of physical education (additional time was taken from academic subjects, with the exception of English). At the end of six years and throughout the last five years of the study, the children in the experimental group (extra physical education) had consistently better academic grades and achievement in physical education as compared to their counterparts in the control group


Shephard, R. J., Volle, M., Lavallee, H., La Barre, R., Jequier, J., and Rajie, M. (1984). Required physical activity and academic grades: A controlled study. In J. Hmarinen and 1. Valimaki (Eds.), Children and Sport (pp.58-63). Verlag, Berlin: Springer.

Shephard, R. J., Jequier, J. C., LaBarre, R., and Rajie, M. (1980). Habitual physical activity: Effects of sex, milieu, season, and required activity. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 20, 55-66.

Language Skills can Blossom in Physical Education Class

Want to teach your preschooler the difference between near and far, left and right, blue and purple? Ensure that physical education is part of his or her early curriculum. According to a preliminary study of kids aged 4-6 from groups as varied as special education, Head Start, and a typical preschool, the physical education environment helps kids - even those with speech or language delays - to understand language concepts and apply appropriate labels.

Since speech and language problems are fairly common among preschoolers and since correcting these problems early is essential to a child's later academic success, these findings have particular significance.

Physical education classes provide a natural opportunity for children to learn concepts like around, over and under, front and behind, and above and below. They also learn about such things as speed, distance, height, shape, color, direction, and position - concepts which lend themselves to a physical learning experience.

Even children whose cognitive or language abilities were impaired showed improvements when language skills were taught during physical education classes without sacrificing the physical skills they're teaching or requiring additional time.

Fortunately for teachers, the study also found that language skills can easily be implemented into physical education classes without sacrificing the physical skills they're teaching or requiring additional time.

Connor-Kuntz & Dummer. (1996). Teaching across the curriculum: language-enriched physical education for preschool children. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, vol. 13, pp. 302-315.

Psycho-Social Benefits

The BenefitsThe Physician and Sportsmedicine - Vol. 20 - No. 10 - October'92

During the 20th century, human beings have substantially reduced the frequency and intensity of their lifelong physical activity. This situation has significantly affected individuals and societies. With concern for this matter, the International Federation of Sports Medicine issued a position statement on June I 1, 1989, entitled "Physical Exercise--An Important Factor for Health." The statement clarifies the relationships between lack of physical exercise and cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. The statement also postulates the prevention of coronary artery disease and the reduction of all-cause mortality when exercise constitutes an integral part of occupational and leisure-time activities. It is appropriate to complete this statement by clarifying the psychological benefits of physical activity: The International Society of Sport Psychology (ISSP) has prepared this position statement accordingly. 

Exercises for Mental Health

Studies have shown that the process of exercise brings about both short- and long-term psychological enhancement and mental well-being. Physical activity has been found to have a positive casual effect on self-esteem changes in adults. Aerobic activity can reduce anxiety, depression, tension, and stress, and it can increase vigor and promote clear thinking.From the clinical perspective, evidence suggests that exercise can beneficially affect hypertension, osteoporosis, adult-onset diabetes, and some psychiatric disorders.It is estimated that as many as 25% of the population suffers from mild to moderate depression, anxiety, and other emotional disorders. Some cope with these disorders individually, without professional assistance. Physical activity in the natural environment can be a promising aid for such people, as physical inactivity may be associated with symptoms of depression.Studies on depressed patients have revealed that aerobic exercises are as effective as different forms of psychotherapy and that the exercises have had an antidepressive effect on patients with mild to moderate forms of depression. North et al, applying the meta-analysis technique, found that exercise activity is more beneficial than leisure activity for all varieties of depressive disorders.

Is Anaerobic Exercise Beneficial?

Studies on the effectiveness of anaerobic exercise on depressed patients are quite limited. However, several studies show some improvement similar to that obtained following aerobic exercises. Anaerobic exercise can lead to better results than aerobic exercise. No such studies were undertaken with patients who had severe depressive disorders, although clinical experience indicates a very limited value for exercise intervention.People who swim have been observed to be significantly less tense, depressed, angry, confused, and anxious after swimming. Weight training with free weights is associated with enhanced self-concept in men. Exercising has helped yoga participants to be less anxious, tense, depressed, angry, and confused, while fencing can increase vigor. Moods such as tension, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion have been shown to decrease following physical exercise while vigor increases.Chronic exercise can influence mood state positively and decrease anxiety in normal subjects. But on the other hand, excessive chronic exercise may lead to fatigue, anxiety, and depression. It also appears that obsessive involvement in exercise often leads to problems with behavior at home and work, physical injury, and feelings of irritability when the obsessive exerciser is forced to stop exercising.Enhanced involvement in physical activity can be beneficial to the well-being of the elderly and can positively affect grade scores of students in primary schools.Psychological benefits of physical activity and fitness in the occupational environment are well documented in the literature. Based on extensive research results, Cox et al have concluded that the industrial management believes that a healthy work force is also satisfied and productive. In addition, fitness programs can be used as a non-job-based vehicle for promoting staff contact (across levels), aiding communication, and developing the cohesiveness of the working team.Individual psychological benefits of physical activity include: positive changes in self perceptions and well-being, improvement in self-confidence and awareness, positive changes in mood, relief of tension, relief of feelings such as depression and anxiety, influence on premenstrual tension, increased mental well-being, increased alertness and clear thinking, increased energy and ability to cope with daily activity, increased enjoyment of exercise and social contacts, and development of positive coping strategies.Rosenfeld et al report that a physical fitness program can moderate feelings of emotional and physical burnout and increase feelings of self-efficiency in the work environment Moderate- to high-intensity aerobic exercise reduces state anxiety, muscle tension, and blood pressure for 2 to 5 hours after the activity. For example, the meta-analysis reported by Petruzzello et al supported the idea that aerobic forms of exercise are associated with reduced anxiety.On the other hand, low-intensity and short duration exercise has failed to reduce state anxiety. Also, Crews and Landers conclude that aerobically fit subjects have reduced psychosocial stress response, and this is more marked after involvement in exercise on a long-term basis compared to acute bouts of activity. A positive relationship has been found between level of physical activity and mental health. 

Staying Mentally Fit

The ISSP encourages all people to participate in free-choice vigorous physical activity on a regular basis. It is recommended that they engage in more than one activity, challenging both aerobic and anaerobic capacities. Noncompetitive activities are preferred. However, when competition is desirable, aggression and nonethical conduct should be avoided. The physical activities chosen should be personally pleasing and satisfying, as enjoyment is related to exercise adherence.In order to benefit psychologically from physical activity, deVries has recommended low-intensity exercise as reflected by 30% to 60% of the difference between resting and maximal heart rate values. Although 20 to 30 minutes of exercise may be sufficient for stress reduction, 60 minutes may result in even more psychological benefit It seems that a duration of 20 to 30 minutes at least 3 times per week of 60% to 90% of age estimated heart rate max (American College of Sports Medicine) could result in desirable psychological benefits. However, other recreational activities, such as ball games, aquatics, and the like, can be psychologically advantageous as wen.In summary, considering the consensus statement of the American National Institute of Mental Health and the research reviewed herein, the potential psychological benefits of being actively involved in regular vigorous physical activity programs are as follows:

1.Exercise can be associated with reduced state anxiety;

2.Exercise can be associated with a decreased level of mild to moderate depression;

3.Long-term exercise is usually associated with reductions in neuroticism and anxiety;

4.Exercise may be an adjunct to the professional treatment of severe depression;

5.Exercise can result in the reduction of various stress indices; and

6.Exercise can have beneficial emotional effects across all ages and for both sexes.

Feelings of competence linked to exercise behaviors in kids


Numerous reports, including Healthy People 2000 and the recently released Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health, have established the benefits of an active lifestyle for people of all ages. Unfortunately, little is known about what motivates folks, kids in particular, to participate in the types of moderate-to-vigorous physical activities stressed in the objectives of these documents.

Careful study of this issue, however, is beginning to yield some clues. So, how can we get kids to exercise regularly? Not, it appears, just by stressing the importance of an active lifestyle. Consider this: When researchers asked a group of 11-15 year olds whether participation in a fitness program was more or less important than alternative activities like taking music lessons, watching TV or videos, or playing with friends, fitness programs got high marks. Surprisingly, however, the value that kids placed on fitness activities in comparison to other pursuits had no relation to their level of activity.

The best predictor of exercise behavior in kids, researchers found, was something called "perceived competence". Kids who felt good about their fitness abilities were more likely to participate in the type of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity necessary to improve their health and fitness. And although the solution to helping kids feel more capable may not be as simple as it seems, the results of the study also suggest a place to start: kids' beliefs were closely related to whether they thought their parents viewed them as competent.

Kirniecik, Horn and Shurin. (1996). Relationships among children's beliefs, perceptions of their parents' beliefs, and their moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, vol 67, pp 324-336.


Physical Benefits

Physical Education Class Contributes to Physical Activity Level

Kids who participate in physical education class in school are more active over the course of the day. That's just one finding from the Bogalusa Heart Study, an ongoing study of cardiovascular disease risk factors in residents of Bogalusa, LA.Over 1,000 children in fifth through eighth grades completed a 24-hour recall of activities using a checklist developed for kids their age. Results showed that students in the 5th and 6th grades who took advantage of recess periods (20-40 minutes total per day) accumulated more minutes of moderate physical activity, although their total minutes of physical activity for the day were similar to non-recess participants.Of the approximately 53% of white students and 36% of black students attending physical education class on a given day, most reported higher overall minutes of physical activity during the day. Only black males did not share in this trend. Black children, in general, were more sedentary than whites.Gender differences in type of activity also provide an interesting look at the physical education class. Girls attending physical education had significantly more minutes of light and moderate activity, while their (white) male classmates reported more minutes of heavy activity.

Clearly, physical education requirements can boost overall physical activity levels in children. The authors suggest that school-based activity be considered an important component in meeting the guidelines for physical activity in adolescents. Myers, Strikmiller, et. al.. (1996). Physical and sedentary activity in school children grades 5-8; the Bogalusa Heart Study. Medicine Science in Sports and Exercise, vol. 28, pp. 852-859.

Age and Activity

Marilyn Albert

In a study of more than 1000 people from age seventy to eighty, four factors seem to determine which oldsters maintain their mental agility:

- Education, which appears to increase the number and strength of connections between

brain cells.

- Strenuous activity, which improves blood flow to the brain.

- Lung function, which makes sure the blood is adequately oxygenated.

Dr. Marilyn Albert, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and neurology at Harvard and Director of Gerontology Research at Massachusetts General Hospital - reported in Inside the, Brain:

Revolutionary Discoveries How the Mind Works by Ronald Kotulak. Published by Andrews and McMeel:- A Universal Press Syndicate Company in Kansas City, 1996.

Why Be Active?

The recent release of the Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health represents a breakthrough in communication of the message that inactivity is a serious health threat. Although as many as 250,000 deaths per year can be attributed to a lack of physical activity, with millions more suffering from related chronic diseases, Americans (pardon the pun) have been slow to move.

In July, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a timely study by epidemiologist Steven Blair, senior editor of the Surgeon General's Report. Blair and colleagues examined the death rates among over 32,000 men and women who were between the ages of 20 and 88 years when a baseline medical exam was completed. Would a greater fitness level, determined by a maximal exercise test during this exam, protect people from death?

It certainly did. Death rates from all causes were significantly lower in subjects with moderate-to high fitness. Even those with normal levels of other risk factors - like tobacco use, blood pressure and cholesterol level, had lower rates of death from all causes if they were at least moderately fit.

Having a low fitness level, on the other hand, proved to be as risky as being a smoker.

If you are convinced that your high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol, smoking habit, or family history of heart disease spells doom for you, pay attention to this message! High fitness persons with multiple risk factors had lower death rates in this study than low-fitness persons with no other risk.

The message is clear: there is a powerful link between physical activity and health, such that even moderate levels of fitness can reduce the risk of premature death. Be a lifesaver, help someone to get moving today.

Blair, Kampert, et al. (1996.) Influences of cardio-respiratory fitness and other precursors on cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality in men and women. Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 276, pp 205-210.

High school sports can accelerate bone growth in girls


Osteoporosis, a painful, disfiguring disease affecting 25 million people in the United States alone., 80% of whom are women, continues to make headlines as researchers learn more about risk factors, possible treatments, and preventive measures.

With no ready "cure" for osteoporosis, and no luck in reversing the disease, the medical community has redoubled its efforts at prevention. A likely formula for risk reduction in women includes physical activity combined with adequate calcium intake and sufficient estrogen levels. And according to researchers at Purdue University, earlier in life, rather than later, may be the best time to ward off this debilitating disease.

By examining the physical activity history of 204 minimally-active women aged 1831, they were able to determine that previous activity, especially participation in high school sports, significantly and positively affects bone growth.

In fact, high school athletic activity, but not occupational and leisure activity over a five-year period, correlated with bone mineral density in the hip. Because osteoporosis is the most common cause of hip fracture, often leading to permanent disability, loss of independence or death, efforts to build bone in this region are particularly needed. And since research suggests that bone growth in the hip may reach its peak by age 16, high school physical activity may represent the best, if not last, line of defense.

Teegarden, Proulx, et al. (1996). Previous physical activity relates to bone mineral measures in young women. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, vol 28, pp 105-113


Senate Bill

No. 896 Introduced by Senator Lee February 27, 1997

An act to add Article 5.5 (commencing with Section 55) to Chapter I of Part I of the Education Code, relating to education.

Legislative Counsel's DigestSB 896, as introduced, Lee. Education: physical activity in schools.Existing law requires the State Department of Education to adopt rules and regulations that it deems necessary and proper to secure the establishment of courses in physical education in the elementary and secondary schools.

This bill would express findings and declarations of the Legislature regarding physical activity in schools. The bill would express the intent of the Legislature that school administrators, physical educators, and counselors be encouraged to make a firm commitment to incorporate into the curriculum, when appropriate, the health benefits of regular physical activity.

The people of the State of California do enact as follows:


SECTION 1: Article 5.5 (commencing with Section 55) is added to Chapter 1 of Part 1 of the Education Code, to read:

Article 5.5. Physical Activity in Schools

55.(a) The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:

(1)On the eve of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games, the United States Department of Health

and Human Services published the first Surgeon General's report on physical activity and health.

(2)The key finding of the report was that everyone's quality of life can be improved through a lifelong practice of moderate physical activity. There is strong evidence to indicate that regular physical activity will provide clear and substantial health gains.

(3)Increasing physical activity is a formidable challenge that must be met by all components of the society. Leadership in this endeavor must be drawn from educators, health professionals, families, businesses, and community leaders, as well as from the communications media and the entertainment industry.

(4)Effective strategies to increase an active lifestyle have taken place in settings as diverse as counseling by health care providers.

(5)In today's technologically advanced society, the necessity to support a positive environment of physical activity is even more pronounced.

(6)It is the intent of the Legislature that school administrators, physical educators, classroom teachers, secondary school coaches, health educators, and counselors, whose central task is to foster the physical and mental well-being of children, shall be encouraged to make a firm commitment to incorporate into the curriculum, when appropriate, the health benefits of regular physical activity.