Benefits of Fitness for Girls
According to a report from Active Living Research, female students who both enrolled in physical education and participated in vigorous physical activity lessons had significantly higher grades than students who were not engaged in any physical education. Furthermore, among 5,316 students in grades K through 5, the frequency and duration of physical education class were positively associated with standardized test performance among girls—but not boys. This relationship may have been attributed to a lower baseline level of fitness for female students, which shows that the girls may have had more to gain from physical education participation.
Girls who participate in sports are less likely to have an unplanned pregnancy than girls who don’t. Self-esteem, body image, and confidence also improve when girls are physically active. The benefits of physical activity in youth pay off in adulthood, as women who played sports in their youth are less likely to develop breast cancer, osteoporosis, and other illnesses.
Despite the clear benefits of physical activities, only about one-third of girls participate in sports at school, compared with half of boys. The opportunities are there, but girls are not being encouraged to take advantage of them. The Women’s Sports Foundation reports that although young boys and girls participate in sports in equal numbers, after age 14 girls drop out six times more often than boys. The foundation attributes this to girls not being supported in their sporting efforts. To boost girls’ participation, the foundation urges parents to take girls to see women’s sports events. In Central Florida, for example, members of the new Orlando Pride women’s soccer team serve as excellent role models for female athletes, as many of them are also playing in the Olympic Games this summer.
Economist Betsey Stevenson of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania examined girls’ sports programs nationwide, and found that the improved academic performance of female athletes translated to better employment outcomes. This is in line with findings from the Women’s Sports Foundation that the benefits of team sports, especially leadership and teamwork skills, translate to better performance in the workplace. The WSF notes that top-level female executives usually participated in sports when they were young. Reporting on Stevenson’s study, the New York Times quoted her as saying, “It’s not just that the people who are going to do well in life play sports, but that sports help people do better in life.”