In many high schools, students choose activities that interest them. When kids experience the joy and benefits of personalized training, rock climbing, hiking, yoga, dance, and other non-traditional sports, they become empowered to take control of their own fitness, igniting an interest in being physically active for life.

At Tahoma High School in Washington, students can opt in to an outdoor academy where physical education, literature, and environmental science are taught as an integrated unit, which might include reading the novel “A River Runs Through It” while trout fishing and studying the biology of water systems.

In Washington, D.C. public schools, all second-graders learn to ride a bicycle in PE class, and Austin, Texas elementary students get recesses throughout the day to focus more, and fidget less.

Brain and social benefits

Here’s more good news: kids who participate in daily PE class learn better in other classes. They’re less likely to wander off-task, or zone-out completely, and that improved attention and discipline yields higher test scores. Research shows that exercise boosts the body’s production of a substance called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein that encourages neurons to grow and remain vigorous, and strengthens the synapses that connect them.

“‘...adding more time for physical activity can radically transform students’ academic performance and test scores.’”

“For years, schools have cut down on breaks to squeeze in more classroom time, believing it improves academic performance. We’ve learned that the opposite is true—adding more time for physical activity can radically transform students’ academic performance and test scores,” explains Paul Roetert, Ph.D., CEO of SHAPE America, the association of health and physical educators that sets the national standards for K-12 physical education.

In fact, your child’s health and PE teacher might be one of the most influential educators in their school career, contributing to their physical, mental and social development in ways that are too often underappreciated.

When PE and health classes incorporate character-building exercises, schools see less bullying behavior and improved self-esteem and peer interactions. And in Milwaukee, a community-wide, United Way-health education collaboration cut teen pregnancies by more than half in just six years.

The fitness-health connection

We know that physical activity can help regulate weight and prevent many chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer and stroke. And to stay fit, young people need 60 minutes of exercise a day – ideally in activities that build strength, endurance, coordination and motor skills.

Thanks to new federal legislation—the Every Student Succeeds Act—school health and physical education are now considered an important part of a well-rounded education, but funding for these programs is still not guaranteed. This is a critical time for parents to reach out to their school decision-makers and show their support for a robust health and PE program.

By making our voices heard, we can ensure that kids gain skills, knowledge and healthy habits that lead to a lifetime of success.