Should kids take physical ed every day?
I don’t quite understand how anybody can argue that young people should not be taking a well-designed physical education class every day in school.
Yet that’s what’s happening now that two D.C. Council members have submitted a Healthy Schools Act that calls for, among other things, 30 minutes of physical education a day for kids in kindergarten through fifth grade and 45 minutes a day for sixth- through eighth-graders.
The bill’s sponsors have been criticized by some, including my Post colleague Jay Mathews, who say that there isn’t enough time in the D.C. school day now to teach reading, writing, arithmetic, science, etc.
Forcing schools to offer physical education would be, they say, a distraction.
They are wrong.
We are living in an era where kids (and adults) are fatter than at any time in U.S. history, when 70 percent of D.C. high school kids fail to meet the federal government’s recommended levels of physical activity and 18 percent of them are obese.
This matters on an individual health basis, and a national one too, as health care costs for all the diseases caused by obesity are skyrocketing and helping to strain the health care system.
Experts inside and outside of government have declared that the best solution to the problem is for more people to get more physical activity.
And, not so incidentally, research shows that physical education does not harm academic performance in students and in many situations actually improves it.
One study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nation’s premier health agency, confirmed on a national level what smaller studies had concluded: that time spent in physical education seemed to improve girls’ academic performance. The researchers found no significant change in academic achievement for boys but theorized that a higher level of physical activity might be needed to get the same result because boys are commonly more active than girls.
Why would physical activity help improve test scores?
Vigorous movement sparks physical changes, including increased blood flow to the brain, that can lead to better concentration and less disruptive behavior.
But it doesn’t really take a well-designed study to come to the realization that it is the rare kid who can sit in class, focused, hour after hour, without a chance to get up and take a physical and mental break. A rushed 20-minute lunch doesn’t count.
I’ve reported on this subject for years, and have asked boys and girls of different ages whether they concentrate better after physical education. Not one ever said, “No.”
When I went to elementary, middle and high school several decades ago, physical education was a daily requirement. I didn’t much like it, actually, largely because it was all about competitive sports and I was no athlete. But even then I knew there was no way that I or any of my classmates could get through the day without getting outside and running around.
Even the dreaded square dancing that we had to do in sixth grade helped.
Today, unfortunately, only about 4 percent of elementary schools, 8 percent of middle schools and 2 percent of high schools provide daily physical education, according to the CDC. Twenty-two percent do not require students to take any physical ed class.
The National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends that schools provide at least 150 minutes of exercise per five-day school week at the elementary school level and 225 minutes a week for middle and high school students.
The reality: Public elementary schools nationwide offer 85 minutes a week for first-graders and 98 minutes a week for sixth-graders, according to a 2005 report by the National Center for Education Statistics.
The real question that we should be asking is not WHETHER kids should be getting more physical education but what KIND.
Some physical education classes are, not doubt, a waste of time. In some kids are left standing around for much of the time, or forced to play in a sport that does little to help them improve their personal physical fitness.
The trend in physical education since the 1990s has been to focus on health-related fitness skills so young people can understand the importance of cardiovascular fitness flexibility, muscular endurance, strength and body composition.
This is an education that I frankly think is as important for kids as is, for example, learning about solubility in science, or how to do a in-depth character analysis of Hamlet. But maybe that's just me.
Tell me if you think I’m wrong, in the comments or at firstname.lastname@example.org. How often do your children take physical education and what kind of a program is it?
| January 4, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories: D.C. Schools, Health, High School, Middle School | Tags: health, physical education
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