I was lucky because most of the students loved to run around. But I had a few students who, if they had the option, would continue to do math problems instead of practicing the combination of math and physics required to put the ball through the hoop. Even though I appreciated this focus on schoolwork, I still wanted to support my students to become well-rounded people. And in my mind, exercising the body was an essential complement to exercising the mind. I had anecdotal evidence and knew that there must be further evidence available on the value of physical activity to student achievement in the classroom.
Studies have found a positive relationship between physical activity and learning, including improvements in cognitive skills and attitudes, academic behavior, and academic achievement. Yoga has been shown to improve quality of life and alleviate the stress levels of students and can support students in the classroom as well. To understand how significant physical activity is for student achievement, any teacher can think of a day of indoor recess as compared with outdoor recess days- it can mean the difference between a classroom full of students who can’t sit still and a group of students who have released their energy. Physical activity is key when it comes to students’ abilities to focus and learn.
Beyond school achievement, the American population is in need of physical activity now as much as any time in our history. The statistics are troubling:
- 78.6 million American adults are obese, with an estimated medical cost of $147 billion and an overrepresentation of populations of color;
- 83.6 million Americans are living with a form of cardiovascular disease or the effects of stroke at a cost of $315.4 billion; and
- 29.1 million Americans have diabetes, with a total cost of $245 billion to the American economy.
These diseases can be addressed by healthy habits, particularly diet and physical activity. And there is no better venue to share these habits than in schools with the nation’s children.
Bill Winfrey is an associate with a public policy and advocacy firm in D.C. Reach him via email or Twitter.