Do you worry that physical education classes take precious time away from your kids' studies? Then you should know what the research shows. According to a 2010 CDC review of 50 studies spanning 23 years, children who are physically fit and active often do better in the classroom than those who aren't active. Physical activity increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain and may boost the growth of nerve cells in the hippocampus -- the brain's center of learning and memory.
Phys ed classes offer kids many other benefits as well. So what goes on in these classes? And what can you do if your child hates gym class? WebMD asked health experts to answer questions you may have about PE.
What's Being Taught In PE?
You might be surprised. The old standbys -- volleyball, soccer, and basketball -- are still around. But many school gym classes have also branched out to help kids discover other physical activities that they may enjoy for a lifetime.
"The more innovative kids' physical education classes are teaching a wider variety of skills these days," says Cheryl Richardson, senior program manager for physical education for the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. "Gym classes might include skateboarding, rock climbing, or in-line skating."
The newer activities can draw in kids who aren't interested in traditional competitive sports. "A PE program should deliver activities that kids at all levels can enjoy," says Jenna Johnson, an exercise physiologist at Sanford Health in Fargo, N.D. "The goal is to expose them to activities they might not otherwise experience and help develop their skills in a non-threatening way."
Why Are Gym and Recess So Important?
"Physical education in schools is one of the most important ways to help fight childhood obesity," says Joseph A. Zenel, MD, executive director of medical education at Sanford Health and professor of pediatrics at the Sanford School of Medicine in Sioux Falls, S.D. "Because kids are in school for so much of the day, it's a great opportunity to have a real impact on their overall physical activity."
But many schools have scaled back or eliminated PE classes to save money. Schools are also under pressure to decrease PE time and instead increase math, English, and science instruction to improve their students' standards-based test scores.