Does P.E. Make Kids Better Students?
It is no secret that childhood obesity has become a serious concern in the United States, and the role that physical education classes can play in fighting the obesity trend has been argued by advocates nationwide. School-age
children need at least an hour of rigorous exercise a day and not all children are going to exercise at home, which further precipitates the need for at least half an hour of physical education daily at schools. With one-third of children currently considered obese and type 2 diabetes on the rise, the Institute of Medicine has issued a report recommending that physical education (PE) classes be considered as mandatory as math and reading.
Benefits of Physical Education
The Fit Move Handbook outlines the many benefits of regular physical activity. Exercise strengthens muscles for better endurance and helps students stay at healthy weights. It also boosts children’s immune systems, making them less likely to get sick and miss school (absence is one of the biggest factors contributing to poor school performance).
Exercise also helps kids focus in class. Rigorous movement releases endorphins that keep kids calm and improves their mood. This is particularly beneficial to students with shorter attention spans or young children who have difficulty sitting still. This is also a major bonus during classes where teachers struggle with moody or unfocused kids who disrupt class discussion.
Exercise has also proven to boost academic performance since it increases oxygen flow to the brain and helps kids sleep better at night. This is the perfect antidote for teenagers who tend to not get enough sleep and then zone out during the day.
The Global Post reminds us that PE can also carry some “liability.” Students are more susceptible to injuries during PE class, especially students who are not used to strength training or playing sports with more seasoned athletes. Unlike recess, students do not have the luxury of opting out of specific activities during PE. Weaker and obese students are also at risk of being bullied during PE. Mandatory PE has also been criticized at the secondary level for preventing academically advanced students from having enough time to pursue more strenuous coursework that can help them get into competitive universities. It can also cause scheduling conflicts for students that want to participate in chorus, band and other electives.
The Current State of PE
ABC News reports that only half of American students are actually getting an hour of rigorous physical activity daily. No Child Left Behind, passed in 2001, made mandatory PE even more difficult to instill with 44 percent of school administrators reporting that they have cut “significant time” out of PE and recess in order to provide increased math and reading instruction. The recent Institute of Medicine report has garnered a great deal of press so may inspire more schools to mandate regular PE. The Huffington Post states that 75 percent of schools require PE, but not many have set time expectations and some schools exempt students that are in sports and other physical activities after school. Only 30 percent of American students go to a PE class every weekday.
In addition to recommending daily PE classes, the Institute of Medicine report also suggests other ways schools can get students physically active during the day, like encouraging students to walk and bike to school and creating lesson plans that involve more physical movement.
Encouraging students to become more physically active needs to come from a whole school approach. Instilling these habits while kids are young will help inspire them to become healthy, happy and more focused adults. In an interview with the Associated Press, Harold W. Kohl III, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Texas School of Public Health, stated, “Schools for years have been responsible for various health programs such as nutrition, breakfast and lunch, immunizations, screenings. Physical activity should be placed alongside those programs to make it a priority for us as a society.”
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