Physical Education Schools

Curriculum, Well-being

What is the impact of physical education on students’ well-being and academic success?

Research confirms that healthier students make better learners. The term quality physical education is used to describe programs that are catered to a student’s age, skill level, culture and unique needs. They include 90 minutes of physical activity per week, fostering students’ well-being and improving their academic success. However, instructional time for quality phys-ed programs around the world are being decreased to prioritize other subject areas (especially math, science, social studies and English) in hopes to achieve higher academic achievement. However, several studies have identified a significant relationship between physical activity and academic achievement. Research also demonstrates that phys-ed does not have negative impacts on student success and that it offers the following physical, social, emotional and cognitive benefits:


Quality phys-ed helps students understand how exercise helps them to develop a healthy lifestyle, gain a variety of skills that help them to participate in a variety of physical activities and enjoy an active lifestyle.


Quality phys-ed provides students with the opportunity to socialize with others and learn different skills such as communication, tolerance, trust, empathy and respect for others. They also learn positive team skills including cooperation, leadership, cohesion and responsibility. Students who play sports or participate in other physical activities experience a variety of emotions and learn how to better cope in stressful, challenging or painful situations.


Quality phys-ed can be associated with improved mental health, since increased activity provides psychological benefits including reduced stress, anxiety and depression. It also helps students develop strategies to manage their emotions and increases their self-esteem.


Research tends to show that increased blood flow produced by physical activity may stimulate the brain and boost mental performance. Avoiding inactivity may also increase energy and concentration in the classroom.


Therefore, decreasing time for quality phys-ed to allow more instructional time for core curricular subjects – including math, science, social studies and English – is counterproductive, given its positive benefits on health outcomes and school achievement.


Additional Information Resources

PHE Canada (2018). Quality daily physical education. Retrieved from

 Ontario Ministry of Education. (2005). Healthy schools daily physical activity in schools grades 13. Retrieved from


Ardoy, D. N., Fernández‐Rodríguez, J. M., Jiménez‐Pavón, D., Castillo, R., Ruiz, J. R., & Ortega, F. B. (2014). A Physical Education trial improves adolescents’ cognitive performance and academic achievement: The EDUFIT study. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports24(1).

Bailey, R., Armour, K., Kirk, D., Jess, M., Pickup, I., Sandford, R., & Education, B. P. (2009). The educational benefits claimed for physical education and school sport: An academic review. Research papers in education24(1), 1-27.

Beane, J.A. (1990). Affect in the curriculum: Toward democracy, dignity, and diversity. Columbia: Teachers College Press.

Bedard, C., Bremer, E., Campbell, W., & Cairney, J. (2017). Evaluation of a direct-instruction intervention to improve movement and pre-literacy skills among young children: A within-subject repeated measures design. Frontiers in pediatrics5, 298.

 Hellison, D.R., N. Cutforth, J. Kallusky, T. Martinek, M. Parker, and J. Stiel. (2000). Youth development and physical activity: Linking universities and communities. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

 Ho, F. K. W., Louie, L. H. T., Wong, W. H. S., Chan, K. L., Tiwari, A., Chow, C. B., & Cheung, Y. F. (2017). A sports-based youth development program, teen mental health, and physical fitness: An RCT. Pediatrics, e20171543.

Keeley, T. J., & Fox, K. R. (2009). The impact of physical activity and fitness on academic achievement and cognitive performance in children. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology2(2), 198-214.

Kohl III, H. W., & Cook, H. D. (Eds.). (2013). Educating the student body: Taking physical activity and physical education to school. National Academies Press.

Rasberry, C. N., Lee, S. M., Robin, L., Laris, B. A., Russell, L. A., Coyle, K. K., & Nihiser, A. J. (2011). The association between school-based physical activity, including physical education, and academic performance: a systematic review of the literature. Preventive medicine52, S10-S20. 

Sallis, J. F., McKenzie, T. L., Kolody, B., Lewis, M., Marshall, S., & Rosengard, P. (1999). Effects of health-related physical education on academic achievement: Project SPARK. Research quarterly for exercise and sport70(2), 127-134.

Strong WB, Malina RM, Blimkie CJ, Daniels SR, Dishman RK, Gutin B, Hergenroeder AC, Must A, Nixon PA, Pivarnik JM, Rowland T, Trost S, & Trudeau F (2005). Evidence based physical activity for school-age youth. Journal of Pediatrics. 146(6):732–737.

Trudeau, F., & Shephard, R. J. (2008). Physical education, school physical activity, school sports and academic performance. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity5(1), 10.

Beane, J. A. (1990). Affect in the curriculum: Toward democracy, dignity, and diversity. Columbia University, New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Meet the Expert

Lee Schaefer

Assistant Professor in the Kinesiology and Physical Education Department at McGill University

Lee Schaefer is an Assistant Professor in the Kinesiology and Physical Education Department at McGill University. His work is generally focused on teacher education and teacher knowle...

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