Seven years ago, Legacy Charter School started a long-term study to measure the effects of daily physical education classes on students’ physical and cognitive health. The latest results show a significant difference between Legacy students, who are required to take 45 minutes of P.E. every day, and students attending elementary and middle schools that don’t. Legacy is the only public school in South Carolina that requires daily P.E. It is also the largest Title I school in Greenville County.
Furman University associate professor of health sciences Julian Reed, who has conducted the study from the beginning, said South Carolina has the 13th-highest obesity rate in the nation at 31.7 percent, up from 21.1 percent in 2000 and 12 percent in 1990. In addition, the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed that 69 percent of female and 46 percent of male high school students in South Carolina did not participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity five or more days per week, and 51 percent did not play on a school or community sports team in the prior year.
Since No Child Left Behind was passed in 2001, schools have reduced time for physical education to squeeze in more time for subjects appearing in high-stakes accountability tests to try to improve test scores, Reed said.
“No Child Left Behind has contributed to the problem,” Reed said.
Reed said cutting physical education to try to increase academic achievement is actually counterproductive. “Daily physical exercise has both immediate and long-term benefits on academic performance and academic achievement,” he said. “Students who are physically fit have improved cognitive ability. Daily P.E. helps students think better and lowers their obesity.”
According to the study, Legacy students improved on 100 percent of fitness measures — a fitness test, muscular strength and muscular endurance — while students at the control schools displayed zero improvement, with many of the grades showing decreases in fitness performance.
Other findings included the following:
- Legacy students showed a significant increase of half of the measures of fluid intelligence, which measures logic and problem solving. Students at the control schools didn’t show significant improvement on any of the features and actually showed decreases.
- Legacy students had significant gains on 50 percent of the measures for perceptional speed, which measures how quickly students can compare things. Control students showed significant improvement in zero of the measures.
- Legacy students had significant increases in aerobic capacity versus a decrease in aerobic capacity for students at the control schools, which were schools with similar demographics and poverty levels.
- Body mass index, which physicians use to measure whether a person is overweight, significantly decreased for Legacy students. It increased significantly for students at the control schools.