By Ken Reed

The physical activity levels of our young people were already trending downward when Covid hit. Covid made things worse. Kids around the country were stuck at home, forced to try and learn virtually. An online math class is one thing. A physical education class at home is nearly impossible.

During the pandemic, physical education has been pushed way down on the education priority list. As a result, many schools have cut physical education classes and dropped some P.E. teachers. The number of students taking PE classes across the nation was already at a record low when the pandemic hit. Recess time was also being cut or eliminated and intramural sports programs had pretty much gone the way of the dinosaur. All those negative trends were escalated by Covid.

This situation is extremely frustrating. The research clearly shows that physically fit kids not only have fewer health problems, they perform better academically. Moreover, in this era of social media-induced stress for school children, combined with the stress of being isolated from school peers during the pandemic, cardio vascular-based physical activity is a proven stress reducer and emotional health enhancer.

“Research has shown that lack of physical activity may be a more significant factor in contributing to childhood obesity than even bad diet,” according to former Congressman and NBA player Tom McMillen. McMillen currently serves as the board chairman for the National Fitness Foundation. “Other research in adults,” he adds, “indicates that poor fitness is a more significant predictor of death than obesity generally, diabetes and other causes. In other words, the most important thing we can do for the health of our kids is to get them up off the couch.”

The amount of time students spend in physical education steadily declines from kindergarten through high school. By high school, most kids in our country are basically done with PE. It doesn’t have to be that way, and it certainly shouldn’t.

All kids should be physically active, not just athletes. Interscholastic varsity sports teams serve only a small percentage of the typical high school’s student population. Today’s societal focus on elite athletes, club sports programs, travel teams, varsity athletics, etc., has left kids “with this belief that sports are not for me, and therefore exercise in school is not for me, and that’s too bad,” says Christopher Berry, principal of Tuscarora High School in Frederick, Maryland. Tuscarora makes physical activity a key part of its daily schedule. They consider it a co-curricular asset tied to the rest of their educational offerings. Intramural sports and physical activity programs are vibrant at Tuscarora and even periodically available during daily flex periods.

As a country, we need to focus on getting our young people moving more through quality physical education, intramurals and club sports, as well as other physical activities. It’s important to note that young people who are active through high school are more active than their less-active school peers through their adult years. Active children tend to turn into active adults. That means a healthier and happier population and lower healthcare costs.

Let’s not let physical education be another casualty of Covid.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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