A new study indicates that frequent, long-term instruction in physical education (PE) helps adolescents be more fit, with improved cognitive function and academic performance.
At the same time, adolescents are equipped with knowledge about how regular physical activity relates to good health.
The findings, published in the American Journal of Health Promotion, come at a time when regular physical education is on the decline in the United States.
While there is the U.S. federal government recommendation of at least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity, the study shows that more than one adolescent in five reported no physical education at all; nearly 40 percent of the students in the 459-person sample, whose ages ranged from 12 to 15, were obese or overweight; and only 26.8 percent met the federal guidelines.
"Perhaps some were not meeting the guidelines because fewer than 35 percent actually knew what the guidelines were for their age group," said study co-author Brad Cardinal, a professor in the Oregon State University School of Biological and Population Health Sciences.
"In the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, physical education is a core subject, on par with language, math and science. Its status was elevated for a reason," Cardinal said. "If you're physically active, you're going to be healthier and stronger and have fewer behavioral problems, and your cognitive function is going to be better."
Like physical education, participation in sports also correlated with more accurate student perceptions of the amount of physical activity necessary for good health, as well as better performance on a variety of muscular fitness-related tests.
"Physical education trumps sports in a head-to-head comparison of the two," he was quoted as saying in a news release, "and when you have physical education plus sports, that's when you have students who are the healthiest, fittest, strongest and most active."
However, the recognized U.S. expert on the benefits of exercise noted, "with only slightly more than one in four adolescents meeting the guidelines, today's youth are being shortchanged in terms of their holistic development. They are not being prepared to live the proverbial good life."