Editor’s note: “Focus on Fitness” is a Clarion feature with healthy lifestyle advice from local and national health and fitness experts. Check here weekly great information and tips on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Always consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
“Both teachers and parents need to be aware of the importance play and physical activity to our children’s psychomotor, cognitive and affective development. And in turn, provide opportunities for both structured and non-structured movement experiences.” — “Movement Experiences for Young Children” by Bill Stinson.
I have often heard it said, “If you do not have your health you do not have anything.” The best way to keep your health is to adopt a physically active lifestyle. When children participate in physical education classes they are more likely to adopt a physically active lifestyle. The resulting health benefits include a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease, stress reduction, weight control, and a reduction in the likelihood of substance abuse, just to name a few. Even academic performance can be improved through regular participation in physical activity.
When quality physical education classes are offered every day the results are profound. During my years at Soldotna Middle School when the nurse would do heights and weights with the kids it was not uncommon for a student to step off the scale and say “Wow! I have lost ten pounds since the start of the year.” On occasion I would have a parent tell me their child had lost 20 or even 30 pounds during the course of the school year. Learning to control weight through exercise is the most important key to long-term success. When paired with education about proper nutrition students have the life-long tools they will need to maintain proper weight throughout their lives. Maintaining proper weight not only results in health benefits it also improves quality of life.
Cardiovascular disease begins to lay its groundwork long before symptoms arise. Students who do not meet minimum aerobic fitness levels are already at risk. When fitness testing is done in physical education classes, kids and parents can be informed of this risk and encouraged to remedy the situation. One of my students, after getting her scores within minimum fitness levels gleefully stated, “I am no longer at risk for cardiovascular disease!”
The chemicals that are dumped into the blood stream during vigorous exercise are similar to those dumped into the blood stream when under stress. This is why regular participation in exercise helps children deal with stressful situations. This is especially helpful for middle school age kids. Entering middle school is one of the most stressful times in a kid’s life. It is very difficult to concentrate on academics when stressed. Regular participation in exercise improves concentration, which in turn improves time on appropriate task. Research shows that time on appropriate task is the most important factor in student achievement.
The performance of America’s youth in math and science in comparison to other countries has been front and center in the news over the last few years. Our performance has been slipping. One of the reasons for this slip is the amount of time our youth spend on homework is less than that of countries that are out performing us. The Chinese are a clear example of this. It is also clear that the Chinese youth are spending more of their free time participating in physical activity. I have no doubt this is not coincidence.
Students who have learned the importance of maintaining fitness are less likely to suffer from substance abuse. Physical education classes also provide skill development that gives kids the confidence to participate in club and school sports. Having a positive social group is essential in reducing the risk of substance abuse in our youth. Regular participation in exercise also reduces feelings of depression, which also reduces this risk.
Studies in the late 1950s showed that when given the choice most kids would choose a sedentary activity over physical activity. Back then those sedentary choices included reading and board games. Today’s youth have a multitude of sedentary activities to choose from. This is why parent involvement is so important in keeping kids active. Limiting time spent watching TV, on the computer, texting, etc. is essential. Even if a child participates in P.E. everyday at school (which is very unlikely), it is important for them to learn how to fit physical activity into their schedule at home. This is especially powerful when parents participate in exercise with their children. Go for a walk, ski, hike or bike ride together. Toss a Frisbee, football or kick a soccer ball around. Go to the gym together. This not only helps kids learn how to adopt an active lifestyle it helps parents do the same.
Kids who adopt an active lifestyle are more likely to become positive productive citizens. Quality physical education in our schools is an essential element in guiding our youth toward an active lifestyle. Developing an active lifestyle is the most important step toward maintaining health. If you do not have your health your quality of life is far from ideal. Take the time to exercise with your kids and support physical education in our schools.
Charlie Stephens is a retired P.E. Teacher and owns/operates Kenai Sport & Train, Inc. which specializes in P.E. consulting. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.