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The Importance of Physical Activity and Physical Education in the Prediction of Academic Achievement

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The purpose of the present investigation was to determine the independent contribu-tions of physical activity not associated with structured physical education and school based physical education participation to academic achievement in children. Prior aca-demic achievement and socioeconomic status were also examined Elementary school par-ticipants were selected from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten data-base. Structural equation models were constructed for both mathematics (boys, n = 3,226; girls, n = 3,256) and reading achievement (boys, n = 3,167; girls, n = 3,226). Physical activity was significantly and positively related to both mathematics and reading achieve-ment in boys and girls. Physical education participation was not significantly related to achievement. Socioeconomic status accounted for approximately 26% of the physical activ-ity. Future longitudinal research is discussed that incorporates more comprehensive physi-cal activity and achievement variables. Young children are leading increasingly sedentary lives, with physical activity frequently displaced by television viewing, Internet surfing, and video gaming (Myers, Strikmiller, Webber, & Berenson, 1996). Much concern has surfaced for this lifestyle change as childhood obesity has risen greatly in the last 10 years (World Health Organization, 2000). Within the school context, incorporating physical activity or fitness training is a likely means to improve the physical health status of children (Haskell, 1994) as well as cognitive performance (Sibley & Etnier, 2003) and attention and concentration (Hillman, Castelli, & Buck, 2005; Shephard, 1996; Taras, 2005). Unfortunately, American public school administrators have been decreasing the time allowed for physical education in order to devote more time to the direct instruction of core subject areas (Coe, Pivamik, Womack, Reeves, & Malina, 2006; Shephard, 1997). In addi-tion, physical education classes are not always centered on physical activity that involves everyone (Block & Burke, 1999). Last, researchers have even suggested that physical educa-tion classes do not provide students with an environment to which vigorous prolonged physi-cal activity is possible (Crews, Lochbaum, & Landers, 2004). Researchers have demonstrated that physical activity is related to improved cognitive performance, and at least two avenues for physical activity in young children (free play and directed play or physical education) appear especially important. The investigation of whether physical education, as it is currently and typically implemented in schools, is as important as vigorous physical activity in the prediction of academic achievement can provide valuable information to school administrators. Hence, the purpose of this study was to evaluate a structural equation model with physical activity and physical education as separate variables to young children's academic achievement while accounting for the effects of socioeconomic status (SES) and prior achievement.
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