Students with cardiovascular fitness tend to score higher on standardized academic tests, according to a recent health report released by the Picard Center for Child Development and Lifelong Learning at UL Lafayette.
The report notes that students with cardiovascular fitness may score up to 5 percent higher on standardized tests than children who are classified as unfit (average of 16 points higher in English Language Arts and average of 19 points higher in Math).
More than 100,000 schoolchildren from approximately 300 schools and 18 districts across Louisiana participated in health-related fitness assessments during the 2010-11 school year. (Of this sample, more than 78,000 records were used in the statewide fitness data analysis, and more than 19,000 student records were used in the fitness-academic data analysis.)
Students participated in five fitness subtests, each measuring a different quality of fitness, such as aerobic capacity, muscle strength, endurance, and flexibility. Additionally, Body Mass Index data were gathered from students. BMI is a measurement of a student’s weight in relation to his height and serves as an indicator of an individual’s risk for certain chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and Type 2 diabetes.
In its analysis of cardiovascular fitness and academic performance, Picard researchers included students who completed a scored aerobic capacity assessment (ages 10 and above) and had LEAP or iLEAP scores (grades 3–9). This sample included more than 19,000 students.
Of this sample:
· Students who passed the cardiovascular fitness assessment scored an average of 16 points higher on the 2011 English-Language portion of the state standardized tests. (326 for students who passed cardio test vs. 310 for students who did not).
· Students who passed the cardiovascular fitness assessment scored an average of 19 points higher on the 2011 Math portion of the state standardized tests. (334 for students who passed cardio test vs. 315 score for students who did not).
· These findings are comparable to similar studies in other states, such as the Texas Youth Fitness Study and the California Physical Fitness Test.
“Based on these findings, the results suggest there are statistically significant differences in children who are aerobically fit and those who are not. This translates into real academic gains for students as well as potentially positive health outcomes,” notes Dr. Holly Howat, co-principal investigator for Coordinated School Health.
Findings in the statewide analysis of fitness data on more than 78,000 children include:
· 56 percent of students in Louisiana had a healthy BMI, and 44 percent of students had an unhealthy BMI, which includes overweight, obese, and underweight.
· More than 1 in 5 students (22 percent) are classified as obese by their BMI scores.
· Only 37 percent of the students who participated in the shuttle run subtest (cardiovascular endurance measure) meet the minimum fitness standard for cardiovascular fitness for their age and gender.
“There has been evidence recently that links aerobic exercise to increased ability to form memories as well as an increase in the absolute amount of oxygenated blood delivered to the brain," says Dr. David Bellar, assistant professor for the university’s kinesiology department. "While these findings still need more thorough evaluation, in light of the findings from the Picard Center, it can be suggested that children adhere to the USDA’s 2005 recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity daily in order to promote health and academic success.”
“Even with all the advancements made in medical science, children today are less likely to live as long as their parents. Diseases that were once thought to affect adults are now seen in school-aged students, such as Type II diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and depression,” says Dr. Wilson Campbell, kinesiology professor at UL Monroe and one of the regional partners of the Picard Center who provides expertise to improve child health in North Louisiana.
Picard Center recommendations for physical activity and fitness
· State stakeholders: Advocate for physical education and physical activity daily in public schools. Enforce current legislation regulating minimum physical and health education minutes in schools.
· School district administrators: Protect time during the school day for physical activity and ensure physical education requirements are being met.
· School-level educators: Implement physical education requirements and seek innovative ways to include physical activity throughout the school day.
· Parents and families: Advocate for children’s health, including daily physical activity for children in all grades (Pre K–12) and follow the USDA MyPlate guidelines, which includes making half of your plate fruits and vegetables.
· All Louisiana residents: Recognize the impact of physical health and fitness on learning and academic outcomes.