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Castelli, Hillman, Buck, and Erwin

DISCUSSION

The key finding of this study is that physical fitness was related to academic perfor- mance in third- and fifth-grade children, providing general support for the notion that children who are physically fit are more likely to perform better on standardized academic achievement tests, thus corroborating the CDE (2001) study. When this general relationship was decomposed by subject matter and type of fitness, find- ings identified that performance on reading and mathematics were both related to aerobic fitness and BMI. The current study contributes to the physical fitness and cognition knowledge base by presenting new evidence that specific components of physical fitness are globally associated with academic performance during matura- tion, independent of other possible factors, as well as through extended application to younger school-aged children.

The data collected herein extend the large-scale research (Sallis et al., 1999) by accounting for the influence of sociocultural variables such as age, sex, school char- acteristics (i.e., school effectiveness), and poverty index. Children who displayed higher levels of physical fitness were more likely to have higher standardized test scores in reading and mathematics, regardless of these other variables. Specifically, aerobic fitness was positively associated, and BMI was negatively associated, with total academic achievement, reading achievement, and mathematics achievement, whereas muscle strength and flexibility fitness were observed to be unrelated to achievement test performance in this data set.

Academic Achievement and Fitness

Findings from this study suggest that physical health is related to academic perfor- mance in addition to national health goals and, as such, warrant consideration in educational and public policy making. Accordingly, opportunities for children to be physically active and become physically fit should be provided by the school, especially at the elementary level. Physical education, among other physical activity opportunities surrounding a school day (i.e., active recess, both before- and after- school programs), is positioned to play an important role in addressing public health issues, yet what curricular components have the greatest impact needs to become more clearly defined. However, the pressure for academic performance, such as that provided by the federal mandate of No Child Left Behind, forces teachers and administrators to make difficult decisions about how time in school should be allocated. The identification of the effects of physical fitness, and its components, on cognitive performance could aid administrators in the decision-making process. Findings from this study also warrant comprehensive examination of physical education programs from the micro (i.e., lesson content, frequency, quality) and macro (i.e., national, state, district policies) levels (McKenzie & Kahan, 2004), thus enhancing the benefits associated with aerobic fitness and healthy BMI, in relation to academic achievement.

Given that school was related to academic performance, yet poverty was not, the current data suggest that school effectiveness may be related to individual academic achievement. However, it should be noted that the measure of individual poverty was based solely on free/reduced meals, and thus, future research may want to examine this relationship more closely using additional measures of socioeconomic

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