Active students have better grades, enhanced memory, lower absenteeism and better behaviour
By Ken Reed
The physical activity levels of our young people were already trending downward when COVID-19 hit. The pandemic made things worse. Kids around were stuck at home, forced to try to 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 phys-ed teachers.
The number of students taking phys-ed classes 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-19.
This situation is extremely frustrating. The research clearly shows that physically fit kids have fewer health problems and 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 U.S. Congressman and NBA player Tom McMillen. McMillen serves as the board chairman for the National Fitness Foundation in the United States.
“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 North America are basically done with phys-ed. 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, Md.
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.
The list of research-based benefits from exercise, sports and other forms of physical activity is long.
It includes better cardiorespiratory health, stronger bones and muscles, lower blood pressure, less risk of Type 2 diabetes, weight reduction, reduced anxiety and depression, and improved cognitive functioning. In addition, research has shown that physically active kindergarten-to-Grade-12 students generally have better grades, enhanced memory capabilities, lower absenteeism rates, and better classroom behaviour.
As a society, 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.
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 health-care costs.
Let’s not let physical education be another casualty of COVID-19.
— Ken Reed is sports policy director for League of Fans, a sports reform project. He is the author of The Sports Reformers, Ego vs. Soul in Sports, and How We Can Save Sports.
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. He is an expert on K-12 education and believes in the power of physical education to improve academic performance and enhance physical, emotional and behavioral health.
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Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
Episode #22 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Rethinking Sports Fandom with Author Craig Calcaterra – We discuss Calcaterra’s new book “Rethinking Fandom: How to Beat the Sports-Industrial Complex at Its Own Game” and explore new ways to be a fan.
Episode #21 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Chatting About a Broken Game With Baseball Writer Pedro Moura – Moura is a national baseball writer for Fox Sports. We discuss how and why the game of baseball is broken, what factors caused it, and offer a few thoughts on how to “fix” a great game.
Episode #20 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Coaching Youth and High School Sports Based On What’s Best for the Athlete’s Holistic Development – We chat with long-time youth, high school and college basketball coach Jim Huber.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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