Physical education classes traditionally haven’t been considered necessary for a successful academic career.

Physical education classes traditionally haven’t been considered necessary for a successful academic career. Standardized tests now used in elementary schools emphasize reading and math to determine educational success.

A study published in the Journal of American Public Health shows that it is time to rethink this. The study showed that reading and math scores for female students between kindergarten and fifth grade were higher in those who spent 70 to 300 minutes per week in physical education classes. Scores were much lower those who received less than 35 minutes per week. Interestingly, the benefit was not seen in the student’s male counterparts. It is believed that boys are more active than girls in sports and may require more time in physical education classes to realize a benefit.

The goal of the Healthy People 2010 federal health initiative is 30 minutes of physical education daily for all students. The hope is that this will become part of each student’s lifestyle and carry over into adulthood. Currently, less than 13 percent of students meet this target.

School districts have been under pressure to increase class time for math and reading in order to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind law. Often, this is done at the expense of art, music and physical education classes. Older studies have shown that test scores can improve by changing class schedules to allow for sufficient sleep. Proper nutrition also enhances academic performance.

Educating children involves exposing them to a broad range of experiences, not just how to pass a test. Physical education is an important part of the educational experience, and cutting back shortchanges our children. We now have proof that reducing time in physical education class sets them up for failure in other areas.

Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is Chief of Neurology at The William W. Backus Hospital and in private practice at NeuroDiagnostics LLC in Norwich. E-mail him at aalessi@wwbh.org. If you wish to learn more about the benefit of physical education for kids, or other sports health topics, listen to the podcast or visit the Healthy Sports blog at www.backushospital.org.