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Phys. Ed. Found to Benefit Academic Performance of African-American Girls

Participation in physical education may have a beneficial effect on the academic performance of African-American high school girls, suggests a study published online last week in the journal Urban Education.

The study drew upon 184 African-American girls enrolled in an unidentified public high school from a large urban inner-city school district in the Midwest, all of whom had physical education classes every other day. The female students self-reported their amount of physical activity and intensity of such activities based on 30-minute blocks, beginning at 7 a.m. and ending at midnight, including their time spent in physical education. Each student and phys. ed. teacher also completed questionnaires regarding behavioral and emotional engagement in PE classes.

Overall, the students averaged roughly 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in PE classes per day and approximately 15 minutes of vigorous activity. Beyond their time in phys. ed., however, the girls had low overall physical activity levels, averaging less than one hour of daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and less than 30 minutes of vigorous physical activity.

The authors found significant differences in both moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and vigorous activity in the days the girls did participate in phys. ed. classes compared to the days on which they did not. In the days with phys. ed. classes, 54.9 percent of their daily overall moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and 65.8 percent of their daily overall vigorous physical activity came during PE. After excluding the activity reported for PE, there was no difference in either moderate-to-vigorous physical activity or vigorous physical activity between days with or without PE.

The authors then turned their attention to whether physical activity level had an effect on the girls' academic performance. Based on their multiple regression analysis, teacher- and self-reports of students' behavioral engagement in physical education and vigorous-physical-activity level in PE were valid predictors for academic performance, but students' emotional engagement and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in PE were not.

"Students' effort, attention, and persistence during the initiation and execution of tasks in physical education could facilitate academic learning," the authors conclude. "Learning experience, self-regulation, and values obtained through physical education could act as a necessity to enhance learning in other academic subjects."

The authors believe "physical activity promotion with academic learning [could] be considered as a coherent goal in urban inner-city schools," particularly among those living in high-crime neighborhoods or communities with few opportunities for school-sponsored after-school sports programs. Though this isn't the first study to discover a potential link between physical activity and academic performance—a systematic review of 14 studies from January 2012 reached a similar conclusion—this particular study's focus on African-American girls from an urban community was more unique.

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