Health and Academics

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Health & Academics

The academic success of America’s youth is strongly linked with their health. Health-related factors such as hunger, physical and emotional abuse, and chronic illness can lead to poor school performance. Health-risk behaviors such as early sexual initiation, violence, and physical inactivity are consistently linked to poor grades and test scores and lower educational attainment. When children and adolescents participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day, there are multiple health benefits. Regular physical activity builds healthy bones and muscles, improves muscular strength and endurance, reduces the risk for developing chronic disease risk factors, improves self-esteem, and reduces stress and anxiety. Beyond these known health effects, physical activity may also have beneficial influences on academic performance.

Children and adolescents engage in different types of physical activity, depending on age and access to programs and equipment in their schools and communities. Elementary school-aged children typically engage in free play, running and chasing games, jumping rope, and age-appropriate sports—activities that are aligned with the development of fundamental motor skills. The development of complex motor skills enables adolescents to engage in active recreation, resistance exercises with weights or weight machines, individual sports, and team sports. Most youth, however, do not engage in the recommended level of physical activity. For example, only 17.1% of U.S. high school students meet current recommendations for physical activity (CDC, unpublished data, 2009). Schools, which serve nearly 56 million youth in the United States, provide a unique venue for youth to meet the physical activity recommendations. At the same time, schools face increasing challenges in allocating time for physical education and physical activity during the school day. Many schools are attempting to increase instructional time...
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