The Role of Physical Education in Cognitive Development

     Financial considerations have always held a prominent position when decisions about formal education are being made. This is understandable as budgets must be used to their full advantage, and no public education system can be expected to provide programs in every conceivable area, no matter how desirable they may be. Budgets demand that essential programs be serviced first, and then those that are desirable, but not essential, can be considered later.

     Difficulties arise, however, when governments, school boards, and educators begin to consider what is essential and what is merely desirable. Politicians and others who have not studied theories of learning can all too easily fall into the trap of believing that art and music, for example, are simply desirable frills. They are frequently not aware of the mental processes involved in studying the arts, and they do not understand the benefits to learning in general that the arts can offer.

     When such programs are cancelled in an attempt to save money, students are the losers because they are denied a valuable component in their intellectual development. But important as the arts are in the learning process, the role of physical education is even more pronounced. The cancellation of physical education programs by certain school jurisdictions in recent times is not only misguided and ill-advised, but it is also detrimental to the normal cognitive development of students.

     Many studies over the past half century have shown time and time again that physical activity provides a powerful stimulus to the brain. This is not surprising as brain cells require an adequate flow of blood to ensure correct functioning and healthy development, especially in children. Physical education cannot be viewed as merely a desirable option in a school system. It is an absolute necessity, and it must be built into the curriculum to ensure that all students participate fully in a program that will challenge them close to their limits.

     Most students look forward to time spent in the gym or on the playing fields. This is helpful, and their enthusiasm must be encouraged. However, some students are not inclined toward sports, and it is important that educators find appropriate ways of involving them in a suitable program of physical activity. Some schools have found that individual exercise programs, as opposed to team events, can be of great benefit to such students, and they have introduced such programs as alternate choices for those who need them.

     The relation between regular physical activity and intellectual development is so clearly established that in today’s educational world, most school jurisdictions have made physical education mandatory for all students. This seems to be the case in both elementary schools and high schools, which is appropriate and encouraging because it recognizes the critical need for physical activity at an early age.

     Those school boards and educational authorities that have not yet recognized the undeniable link between physical activity and cognitive development must take their cue from others. Physical education is not an optional frill and it must be established in the curriculum as a mandatory subject.