Fitness in Physical Education: Get up & Move!
This is Part 1 of a two-part series. Part 2, discussing the mental/emotional side of physical education.
Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary because health is worth more than learning.
Hard work, self-improvement, and self-sacrifice used to be the hallmarks of this country.
Toiling, in pursuit of a worthy purpose, was hardwired into our nation’s DNA. It was reflected in everything from the professional workforce to our youth and the public education system.
In recent decades, however, the value of physical pursuits and well-being dropped in favor of the cerebral.
Academic subjects and the arts were hoisted to a position of “most-importance” whereas physical education was looked down upon as a “baser,” less noble pursuit. Worse, educators were forbidden from making kids sweat, or feel physically “uncomfortable” in class.
The result? A national health epidemic.
Houston, We Have a Problem.
Unfortunately, we are not speaking in hyperbolics. This country has a health and wellness problem, and it’s being perpetuated in today’s youth, each and every year.
In fact, as recently as 2015, the prevalence of obesity amongst the nation’s High School population was a staggering 20.6%.
Making matters worse, overall physical fitness rates have been in decline since the turn of the millenia.
- Less than half of 12 to 15 year old youth have adequate cardiorespiratory fitness levels
- Only 52% of children between 6 and 15 years old have adequate muscular endurance, based on the number of pull-ups performed
- Of High School-aged students, just 5.3% of boys and 12.1% are in the “excellent” Health Benefit Zone for grip strength.
We’re talking about more than 1 in every 5 high school aged students being overweight, and only 1 in 2 being in any sort of adequate muscular or cardiovascular “shape”.
It’s no surprise, a lack in physical fitness can lead to all sorts of harmful situations down the road as kids age. Such students are at greater risk for all of the following:
- High Blood Pressure & Cholesterol
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.
- Asthma & Sleep Apnea
- Low Bone Density & Joint Problems
Happiness, stress-level, and academic achievement are also all at risk when physical activity and fitness are not made a priority within education. (Read our complete take on that side of the argument here).
And yet, across the country, many high school students are graduating with little-to-no physical fitness, and lacking the tools to drive them forward into a healthy life in the long term.
The Missing Link: A Commitment to PE
Our national health concerns are no surprise given our recent focus, or rather a lack thereof, on physical activity & exercise in school.
Physical Education, itself, has traversed a unique and winding road over the last two centuries.
In the early 1800’s, PE was focused squarely on gymnastics and personal hygiene. It then shifted to more of a sports-dominated pursuit for near-to a hundred years.
Then, the press of global war forced the government to push PE back towards fitness education and physical standards (driven mostly by a need for a fit “fighting-age” population). The oft-debated “Presidential Fitness Test” was a direct result of this movement. It wasn’t perfect, but exercise was a priority.
But, economic downturns in the 70’s and 80s, though, and the subsequent budget cuts, led to a drastic decline in the presence of comprehensive PE programs in our nation’s educational institutions.
Instead of being presented with regular activity and exercise, our students are now more sedentary than ever.
In fact, the United States earned a D- in Overall Physical Activity within the recently released 2018 U.S. Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth.
Research has shown a disturbing trend amongst our nation’s students with regards to acitivity levels:
- Only 6% of students get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day.
- Just 30% attend any sort of PE class every day. Worse, over 50% attend such a class just once a week!
To make matters worse, PE has become the subject from which students claim exemption on a regular basis. From physical or cognitive disability, to participation in other school activities, like band or art class – these days there are many “acceptable” reasons for missing PE.
Across the country, students are being asked to sit more, and move less.
We’re setting our kids up for failure.
Let’s Get Moving
With the country’s youth facing such serious health concerns due to a lack of fitness and activity, it is time to invest in Physical Education.
If we want to solve our nation’s health crisis, we must place physical education at the level of importance at which every other school subject sits.
It may require some physical discomfort. It may require a shift in attitude within schools. But it must happen.
Teaching lifetime fitness is a noble pursuit.