A recent study found that middle-school students who are more physically fit — as measured by a series of push-ups, shuttle runs and other exercises — also earn better test scores and grades. Researchers said the study, published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, calls into question the decision by some districts to cut physical-education programs and recess in favor of teaching core subjects. 

For kids, being physically fit isn’t just an advantage when playing kickball or running away from that girl who likes you. New research shows that middle school students who were in good physical shape outscored classmates on standardized tests and take home better report cards.

Conducted at Michigan State University, this new research is the first study linking children’s levels of physical fitness to both improved test scores and overall academic grades. 

The study, published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, is also among the first to observe how academic performance relates to all aspects of physical fitness, including body fat, muscular strength, flexibility, and endurance.

Lead researcher Dawn Cloe states, “We looked at the full range of what’s called health-related fitness,” said Coe, who conducted the research as a doctoral student in MSU’s kinesiology department and is an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “Kids aren’t really fit if they’re doing well in just one of those categories.”

Data was collected from 312 students in sixth through eighth grade at a West Michigan school. Researchers then gauged the kids’ fitness with an established program of push-ups, shuttle runs and other exercises.

They then compares those scores to students’ letter grades throughout the school year in four core classes and their performance on a standardized test.

The results showed the fittest children got the highest test scores and the best grades, regardless of gender or whether they’d yet gone through puberty.

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Dr. Kathy Seifert