Case grows stronger for physical activity's link to improved brain function.

A first-period exercise class is helping Illinois teens prime their brains for the day's coursework -- a model that should be expanded nationwide, some education and medical experts say. "There's sort of no question about it now," said Dr. John J. Ratey, a Harvard Medical School associate professor of psychiatry. "The exercise itself doesn't make you smarter, but it puts the brain of the learners in the optimal position for them to learn." Education Week (premium article access compliments of (2/12)

Proponents of the educational benefits of exercise maintain that the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which puts pressure on schools to raise students’ test scores in core academic subjects, is prompting some schools to cut back on time for physical education classes and recess. Nationwide, Dr. Ratey writes in his book, only 6 percent of schools now offer PE five days a week. “At the same time,” he adds, “kids are spending 5.5 hours a day in front of a screen of some sort—television, computer, or hand-held device.”

“Had the creators of No Child Left Behind looked at the data, they would’ve realized that physical activity is good for the brain,” said Charles H. Hillman, an associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

With his university colleague Darla M. Castelli, Mr. Hillman assessed the physical-fitness levels of 239 3rd and 5th graders from four Illinois elementary schools. Their findings published last year, in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, show that children who got good marks on two measures of physical fitness—those that gauge aerobic fitness and body-mass index—tended also to have higher scores on state exams in reading and mathematics. That relationship also held true regardless of children’s gender or socioeconomic differences.