Does yoga improve academic performance more than PE?

A recent study published in Mind, Brain, and Education looks at the impact of a yoga programme on the academic performance of secondary school students.

At a New York City public high school, 112 students were randomly assigned to one of four yoga or six PE classes. The students were in Grades 9-11 (age 14-17); 59% were Hispanic and 22% Black, 11% Asian, and 8% White. Both PE and yoga classes met twice a week for 45 minutes throughout the academic year. The yoga curriculum used mindfulness and yoga-based exercises to help students focus on their work and respond appropriately to challenging situations. The PE class included weight lifting, fitness exercises, and common games, varied by the class teacher.

Student achievement was measured using their grade point average (GPA) from the previous and current academic years. Students and staff also completed a number of psychosocial measures, including the Response to Stress Questionnaire and the Child and Adolescent Mindfulness Measure.

The study found no difference in GPA between students assigned to the yoga classes and those assigned to the PE classes. Students who were assigned to the yoga classes were associated with lower scores on the psychosocial scales, although this was not significant. There was a higher level of participation by students in PE classes than yoga classes. However, researchers found that students who had high levels of participation in yoga classes had significantly better GPA than those who had high levels of participation in PE classes.

Source: Yoga Improves Academic Performance in Urban High School Students Compared to Physical Education: A Randomized Controlled Trial, Mind, Brain, and Education (2016).

FITKids programme benefits body and mind

Results of a randomised study that compared pupils who attended FITKids (a daily after-school fitness programme) to those who did not showed benefits for the FITKids group in attention, memory, and task-switching.

The study involved 221 eight- to nine-year olds matched by age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and aerobic fitness during the school years 2009-2013. The experimental groups participated in the FITKids programme for two hours a day after school for nine months. Each day they spent 30 minutes at activity stations, followed by a rest/education period then about 45 minutes of organised games. The control groups were put on a waiting list for the FITKids programme.

All groups were pre- and post-tested on fitness and cognitive measures. Both groups demonstrated post-test gains in aerobic fitness, but these were significant only in the experimental group. The experimental group demonstrated twice the accuracy in cognitive tasks at post-test compared with the control group.

The authors concluded that a daily after-school fitness programme improves brain health. They warned that policies that seek to increase academic achievement by replacing physical education and break times with academic classes may inadvertently do more harm than good.

Source: Effects of the FITKids Randomized Controlled Trial on Executive Control and Brain Function (2014), Pediatrics 134(4)

Recent policy developments in school sport

This policy update from the House of Commons library provides a summary of the debate around the type and level of provision of sport and physical education (PE) in schools. The Department for Education has confirmed that PE will remain a compulsory subject after the review of the National Curriculum in England.

Since the Secretary of State for Education’s October 2010 statement, calling for a new direction in school sport, there have been many significant policy changes, and the update provides a useful precis.

The next issue of Better: Evidence-based Education, published in June, takes as its theme “Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds” and looks at the evidence that sport and other non-academic activities, such as yoga and programmes to address problem behaviour, can boost children’s physical and mental health and help them to learn.

Source: School Sport (2012), House of Commons Library

Fitness is related to academic performance

new report has shown that school pupils’ fitness is strongly related to their academic performance. The association is strongest during the early secondary years, and cardiovascular fitness made the most difference. The study, in the Journal of School Health, looked at over 250,000 pupils’ academic and fitness records, and recommends that schools should consider increasing PE time, and that PE teachers should emphasise cardiovascular fitness.

Source: Associations of physical fitness and academic performance among schoolchildren (2011), Journal of School Health, 81(12).