In 2006, The World Health Organization identified physical inactivity as one of the key threats, even greater than smoking, to worldwide population health. The benefits of an active lifestyle are many: it reduces the risk (up to 50%) of developing heart disease, diabetes (type II), colon cancer, and lower back pain; reduces stress, anxiety and feelings of depression and loneliness; helps control weight; helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints; enhances functional capacity and independent living; promotes psychological well-being, results in better cognition, social interaction and social integration; helps to minimise the consequences of certain disabilities and can help in the management of painful conditions. The Health Behaviours in School Children (HBSC, 2006) survey showed that over half of primary school age children did not achieve the recommended level of physical activity. By 15 years of age, almost nine out of 10 girls and seven out of 10 boys do not achieve the recommended level.
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A perception exists that participation in physical activity and sport may have an adverse effect on academic performance , this study will explore whether this perception has any grounding.
In a recent review articles on the relationship between physical activity and academic performance, the authors made a number of conclusions with regard to these theories showing some positive correlations and others having no effect on academic performance, but not having a negative effect either. One such study supporting this is Trudeau and Shephard (2008), which indicated that significant knowledge exists regarding the kinds of intervention programmes likely to have positive effects on the overall development of children and adolescents. Additionally, the literature by Trudeau and Shephard strongly suggests that the academic achievement, physical fitness and health of our children will not be improved by limiting the time allocated to physical education instruction, school physical activity and sports programmes. The following are arguments made that regular involvement in physical activity does have an association with improved academic achievement. In a study by Nelson and Gordan-Larsen (2006), it was found that from a study of nearly 12000 US high school students, those who participated in school-based physical activities, playing school sport, or even activity with their parents, were 20% more likely than their sedentary counterparts to earn an A grade in Mathematics or English. Prior to this, a Trois Rivieres study was undertaken in Quebec, Canada. The researcher/s discovered during that one extra hour per day of additional physical education was significantly related to students showing signs of improvement in standard mathematics test scores from 2nd to 6th grade, but there was no evident difference in subject area (Shepard et al, 1994). Likewise a study by Chomitz et al, 2009, correlated their findings to an ever-growing evidence base, indicating the relationship between student's academic achievement and physical fitness. They undertook a cross-sectional study using public data from 2004 to 2005, and found a significant positive relationship between fitness, Mathematics and English with regard to academic achievement, using 1 of 2 sources, firstly the raw MCAS or categorically pass/fail variables . This study was similar to that of the notion put forward by Castelli et al 2007, their study involved investigating physical fitness and academic achievement in 3rd to 5th grade students. Likewise, in both studies it is unknown why fitness was more strongly associated with mathematics achievement than English scores (Chomitz et al, 2009).
Furthermore Tremarche et al (2007) conducted a study of 311 4th grade students in two schools. They found that students who received 56 or more hours of physical education in a school year scored significantly higher scores on Massachusetts standardised tests in English and Language art, compared to students who received 28 hours of physical education per year. However, the study did not show to have significant difference on mathematics scores. Following this a longitudinal study that was conducted by the centres for disease control and prevention followed two national samples involving 5316 students from kindergarten to 5th grade. This study showed that girls who participated in physical education for 70 or more minutes per week had significantly higher achievement scores in mathematics and reading, than the girls who enrolled in physical education for 35 or fewer minutes per week. However, among the boys, greater exposure to physical education was neither negatively associated with academic achievement (Carlson et al, 2008). So it is clear, many variables are evident within each piece of research, with examples of time variances for physical education or activity, gender, that suggest reasons associating PE with enhancing or not enhancing academic achievement.
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Physical education has come under attack over recent years, and has had its time allocation cut, due to it being perceived as a 'non-academic' subject. It has been felt that more time spent in classroom instruction will improve academic performance and increase student test scores. However documented studies have proven to contradict this notion. For the case of reducing physical education in schools, it is further criticized by other studies that show a significant positive relationship between physical fitness and academic performance. Such correlations were found in national health surveys that involved large representative samples of children and teens from across the world in locations such as the USA, Australia, Iceland, Hong Kong and the UK (Trost, 2007).
Conflicting studies challenge this notion to show that there have not been any significant indications of students performing better academically when engaging in an active lifestyle. In favour of the idea that physical activity and physical education yield little in terms of academic performance, Sallis et al (1999) conducted an investigation in California on the effects of academic achievement, using 759 4th and 5th grade students, over an intensive 2 year program in 7 different schools, where they doubled the amount of time elementary students spent in physical education. Again, in this study, neither overall academic achievement nor achievement in language arts and reading were adversely affected. Unlike Sallis et al 1999 findings, Coe et al 2006 arrived at a similar assumption as Sallis et al 1999, having found no significant relationship between physical education and physical activity and standard tests, but where Coe et al 2006 differed was finding a correlation between vigorous physical activity and grades. Coe et al, 2006 in a study of 214 6th grade students in Michigan found that students had grades and standardised test scores, similar to those of students who were not taking physical education, despite receiving nearly an hour less of daily instruction in core academic subjects. The authors found no significant relationship between physical education or physical activity and standardized test scores. However, as stated above, what Coe et al, 2006 did find was that, while physical education was not related to academic achievement physical activity, meeting some or all of the Healthy People 2010 guidelines for vigorous physical activity was significantly related to higher grades over two semesters. Similar to that of Sallis et al 1999, is a more recent study by Ahamed et al, 2007 in British Columbia, involving 287 4th and 5th grade students, where 10 elementary schools participated in the study. They evaluated the effects of daily classroom physical activity sessions on academic performance. The study found students who attended schools implementing the program spent approximately 50 more minutes per week in physical activity, and their standardised test scores in mathematics, reading and language art were equivalent to the those of students in the control group.
An assertion that is important amongst many of the academics is the recurring theme of students that are involved in such studies - whose physical activity or physical education was increased, and academic curriculum time was reduced - were not shown to have an adverse impact on academic work (Dwyer et al, 1983). Other such academics concurred with such views, such as Carlson et al, 2008.