Physical Activity, Fitness, Academic Achievement, Academic Performance

Dr. Aaron Beighle hit me up on Voxer to discuss my blog titled The True Argument for Physical Education. He gave me some pushback on my loose verbiage. He went on to post his thoughts here on his vlog (video blog).

I have dictated his vlog for your viewing pleasure:

I want to provide a few very brief definitions. I want to talk about the physical activity as a behavior. It’s just any physical activity or any movement we do. I think we often confuse this with fitness.  Fitness is an outcome. Fitness is how well you do on a battery of tests or an individual test but it’s not the same thing as physical activity. Physical activity if it’s done as exercise can improve fitness, but fitness and physical activity are not the same thing.

Academic achievement is just basically standardized test performance. Academic performances are behavior, attendance, attention span, there are all kinds of things that influence academic performance.

I think where we get in trouble is we start focusing on fitness and academic achievement. As a rationale for physical education existing. Which I think physical education exists because we offer something unique that no one else does. But, fitness is something that’s controlled primarily by genetics and maturation. Frankly, some people will never decide to be fit; but, they can be healthy because the health comes from being physically active. We have to keep going back to that. We want kids to be active because the data is pretty clear the data on fitness and academic achievement is correlation and not overly strong.

What is strong is the data on physical activity and academic performance.  We know attention span goes up when they are active and behavior problems go down when they are active.  Those are two often cited barriers. As physical educators, we can improve and help foster physical activity. It’s really hard to foster and promote fitness, I think we have to be very careful on that. Fitness has its place. I’m not saying that fitness doesn’t have a part of this. I think some will choose to be fit some won’t. We have to focus on physical activity because that’s where the health comes from.

You should check out the book No Sweat by Michele Segar. It’s a fabulous book that shows we have some issues with how we do fitness. We probably aren’t doing it the right way. We are not using the right motivation or helping people find meaning in physical activity.

We need to focus on physical education. It stands on its own for the potential that we have for impacting the health and physical literacy journey for students. It also has physical activity benefits so promotoing physical activity (first) and then… there is also these cognitive benefits as well that are academic benefits as well. We need to be careful about tying in fitness and saying if they do better on fitness tests they will do better academciall. Its a slippery slope and I dont know if we have all the data in yet.

Dr. Aaron Beighle

That is a brilliant bit of work right there! The argument isn’t about fitness at all. It’s about movement. This ties in brilliantly to Dr. Oconnor’s latest post titled Teaching Movement for Understanding. We have to go back to the idea of movement as fun and enjoyable. Everything stems from there. Physical Education teaches and encourages physical activity first and foremost. Are there additional benefits in academic behaviors? Absolutely! That is not something we should hang our hat on though.

With that being said, it is a bargaining chip to be used in a system that undervalues us. If we were building a boat the academic benefits would be a decorative bow on the side somewhere. We make the case that students health is more important than test scores. If we focus on that and don’t let the test score pendulum scare us we will be pointed in the right direction as a profession.

P.S. Don’t allow standardized testing in our profession either!

What can you add to this conversation? Tweet @AaronBeighle @Schleiderjustin @JustenO’connor



4 thoughts on “Physical Activity, Fitness, Academic Achievement, Academic Performance

  1. Pingback: The PE Playbook – March 2018 Edition – drowningintheshallow

  2. Justen P O'Connor

    Nice work. To clarify a point on fitness here:
    “Fitness is an outcome. Fitness is how well you do on a battery of tests or an individual test but it’s not the same thing as physical activity.” Technically fitness is not how well you do on a battery of tests (unless your purpose for moving is to do well on a battery of tests). Fitness relates to having the suitable capacities/functionality to fulfill a particular role or task. Climb stairs at work, jog to catch the bus, play a pickup game of basketball, run a 1/2 marathon, walk the dog around the block. Fitness is only relevant if there is a purpose – can I do the things I want to do? Which makes any test of fitness only relevant if it matches the purpose for which testing is being conducted. The multi-stage ‘beep test’ for example, is a test of maximal endurance designed to measure how ‘fit’ a mature body is for playing high-level competitive court or field sports. For high-level basketballers, it likely has some meaning and relevance. For someone wanting to maintain a moderate level of physical activity, it just isn’t necessary or relevant and therefore not meaningful. The purpose is what is important when it comes to fitness. Fitness is generally a product of pursuing something meaningful or a means to be able to have greater access to something meaningful (climb a tree, swim out through the break to catch a wave, to feel refreshed/restored and get a dose of good hormones, to achieve a 5km run with friends, ride a bike through rolling country, play a game, walk to the shops). Some people want to gain fitness for appears to be the express purpose of reaching a particular fitness target, but often these are socially constructed and set in a social context and often have meaning beyond the goal itself (ie. they want to share this experience with others in a gym setting, feeling fit makes them feel good). If your purpose is to win a sumo wrestling competition then having low body fat is not going to help you. If your purpose is to win the 100m sprint, then scoring well on a ‘beep test’ is pointless. If your purpose is to run a marathon then your 10m or 20m sprint time is irrelevant. If your purpose is to maintain active contact with your friends, to walk around the shops, to spend time with your pet dog, to play some casual sports then a test of agility is likely not that helpful. Yes, fitness is important but it is only important relative to the purpose to which you want to apply it. So fitness doesn’t exist on its own, it has to be tied intimately to a purpose (fit for purpose). Without purpose, fitness (and by extension fitness testing) becomes meaningless, arbitrary, directionless and will do nothing to enhance the long-term health of individuals. If people find physical activities they love doing, then they will likely pursue those and guess what, fitness to be able to do those activities will come from that. Some will need to work extra hard on fitness to meet other goals (ie. be competitive). But unless we can find meaning beyond the components of fitness, they won’t be of much use. “To be healthy” is a pretty vague and ill-defined purpose for a 12-year-old. Too much ‘fitness’ work in PE, including fitness tests, is done without purpose or meaning. Why am I planking? Why am I doing push-ups to this catchy song? Why am I running up down to a timed beat? Find the answer to the why’s and make this the focus of your teaching. Great Post.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s