The benefits of exercise are well-known, but in many schools, physical education is being phased out. There are a few reasons, such as a lack of funding for PE teachers and equipment. Cutting gym may not seem like a big problem, but when you look at physical education more closely, it becomes clear what students lose. Here are ten reasons why physical education matters:
#1 PE can help students improve their grades
In theory, getting rid of gym and replacing it with other classes should be good for students. However, research shows that exercise encourages skills like concentration and better self-control. A study from the University of Illinois found that children who exercised were more likely to get better grades. Another study found “positive associations” between physical education, cognition, and academic achievement. More research is needed to answer questions like when is the best time for gym, but it’s clear that PE does not negatively affect grades.
#2 PE improves self-esteem
Many kids suffer from low self-esteem, but PE may help. In a 2016 review of 22 studies looking at the connection between mental health and exercise, researchers found that exercise improved self-esteem. There are a few reasons why this might be, including that PE encourages kids to build their skills, work in teams, and simply enjoy moving their bodies. Young children in particular, who are just building their senses of self, benefit from physical education and developing physical skills.
#3 PE can reduce depression
For people with depression (or at risk of depression), exercise can be very beneficial. In one study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, researchers learned that walking for an hour or running for 15 minutes each day reduced the risk of major depression by 26%. Why? When you work out, your brain releases endorphins that boost your mood. Many people also find that working out distracts them from negative thoughts, providing a much-needed escape.
#4 PE can help with anxiety
Depression and anxiety are closely related, so it makes sense that exercise helps with anxiety, too. Chemicals released during exercise – like serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) – fight against anxiety, while moving your body helps decrease the muscle tension that comes from feeling stressed. Even just a short walk every day helps reduce anxiety and makes it more manageable.
#5 PE helps kids with ADHD
ADHD makes it very difficult for students to focus in class. Their grades often suffer as a result. Research shows that exercise tackles many symptoms of ADHD, including poor concentration, motivation, mood, and memory. Chemicals like dopamine and serotonin – which are released during exercise – also impact a person’s focus.
#6 PE improves sleep
The importance of sleep can’t be exaggerated. Kids in particular need lots of sleep, but many don’t get enough. According to the National Sleep Foundation, school-aged kids between 6-13 years old need between 9-11 hours every night. Teenagers need about 8-10 hours. Scientists aren’t quite sure why exercise helps with sleep, but they do know that moderate aerobic exercise increases how much “slow-wave sleep” a person gets. Slow-wave sleep is deep sleep. Even just 30 minutes of exercise a day can improve sleep quality.
#7 PE helps people manage diabetes
Exercise impacts diabetes management in a few ways. With Type 2 diabetes, PE can improve blood glucose control, weight loss, and general well-being. For people at risk, regular exercise can even prevent or delay diabetes. What about type 1 diabetes, which as far as we know, can’t be prevented for those who will get it? Exercise is also beneficial as it improves insulin sensitivity. Finding the right kind of exercise and proper fueling is important, so consult a doctor with any questions before starting a workout routine.
#8 PE boosts heart health
Your whole body benefits from exercise, but it’s especially good for your heart. Experts say that aerobic workouts like running combined with strength training exercises (like weight lifting and resistance training) protect your heart health. Your muscles get better at pulling oxygen from your blood, which eases the work your heart needs to do to pump the blood. Exercise also lowers your blood pressure, which is a major cause of heart disease.
#9 PE helps brain development
We’ve talked about how exercise releases certain brain chemicals that deal with mental health, but there’s more to the story. Exercise also releases hormones that encourage the growth of brain cells and promote brain plasticity. New connections between cells are stimulated. Why does brain plasticity matter? It makes it easier for the brain to adapt, change, and heal.
#10 PE can be accessible for people of all abilities
15% of the world’s population has some type of physical or mental disability. Disabilities can make certain exercises challenging or impossible, depending on what’s required. That can make a person less likely to exercise. Luckily, many programs and exercises are accessible to people of all abilities. PE doesn’t need to be strenuous to be beneficial. Before beginning a workout, a person should consult with a health professional.