Objectives: We examined the association between time spent in physical education and academic achievement in a longitudinal study of students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
Methods: We used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998 to 1999, which employed a multistage probability design to select a nationally representative sample of students in kindergarten (analytic sample = 5316). Time spent in physical education (minutes per week) was collected from classroom teachers, and academic achievement (mathematics and reading) was scored on an item response theory scale.
Results: A small but significant benefit for academic achievement in mathematics and reading was observed for girls enrolled in higher amounts (70-300 minutes per week) of physical education (referent: 0-35 minutes per week). Higher amounts of physical education were not positively or negatively associated with academic achievement among boys.
Conclusions: Among girls, higher amounts of physical education may be associated with an academic benefit. Physical education did not appear to negatively affect academic achievement in elementary school students. Concerns about adverse effects on achievement may not be legitimate reasons to limit physical education programs.