A healthy heart and lungs can contribute to better grades for middle school students, researchers meeting here at the American Psychological Association convention said today.
For boys and girls, healthy lungs and hearts were the only factor researchers studying 1,211 Texas middle school students found that consistently had an effect on boys' and girls' scores on reading and math tests.
Researchers also looked at students' physical activity, self-esteem, social support, and body composition, but controlled for students' poverty level and their own perceptions about their academic ability.
"This provides more evidence that schools need to re-examine any policies that have limited students' involvement in physical education classes," said study co-author Trent A. Petrie, a professor of psychology and director of the Center for Sport Psychology at the University of North Texas-Denton.
In addition, his study found that social support—defined as reliable help from family and friends to solve problems or deal with emotions—had an influence on reading scores for boys. For girls, aside from cardio and respiratory health, a larger body mass index predicted better reading scores.
"The finding that a larger body mass index for girls was related to better performance on the reading exam may seem counterintuitive," Petrie said, "however, past studies have found being overweight was not as important for understanding boys' and girls' performances on tests as was their level of physical fitness."
From one to five months before the students took annual reading and math exams, they answered questions about their level of physical activity and how they viewed their academic ability, self-esteem, and social support. The school district provided information on the students' socioeconomic status and reading and math scores at the end of the year.
Researchers determined students' physical fitess with a fitness assessment that includes tests to measure aerobic capacity, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition.
The longitudinal study allows schools to consider these risk factors in middle school students' performance on math and reading tests.
"That is essential to developing effective programs to support academic success," he said.