Fourth in a series on physical education …

By Ken Reed

It used to be the one place that all kids could participate in sports and fitness activities was in physical education class. However, with cutbacks in physical education (PE) classes over the past 30 years or so, that isn’t the case today.

Physical education on a once per week basis is now the norm, and in some schools, kids go an entire semester — or even an entire school year — without a single day of physical education. Recess time is also being cut in elementary schools across the country.

Our schools are driving in reverse here. Given all the research data showing fit kids perform better academically, and that exercise primes the brain for learning, our schools should be adding physical education classes, recess time, intramurals, before school physical activity programs, and in-class exercises (“brain breaks”), not slashing these things.

“Exercise is like Miracle-Gro for the brain,” says Dr. John Ratey, author of SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. “It grows brain cells.”

It’s not like our young people are getting plenty of physical activity outside of school. Over 75% of U.S. children are not active even 20 minutes a day. That’s shocking. And tragic.

Despite a worsening childhood obesity epidemic; despite a growing mound of evidence pointing to physical inactivity as the primary cause of the epidemic; despite the numerous benefits of quality, daily physical education; despite over a decade of “calls to action” from the Surgeon General, top health and education organizations, and numerous political leaders; and despite a strong majority of teachers and parents that believe P.E. should be a big part of the childhood obesity solution; physical education continues to be cut back and treated as the ugly stepchild in schools across the country.

The bottom line is America’s children need more physical activity. We’re at a point in our nation’s history where the need to teach our kids the benefits of a lifelong, physically-active lifestyle has never been greater.

A major step forward would be to implement quality, daily physical education programs in all of our schools, kindergarten through 12th grade.

Phil Lawler, a leader in the fitness-based PE movement, once described quality physical education this way:

“It’s about enabling each student to maintain a physically-active lifestyle forever. It means emphasizing fitness and well-being, not athleticism. It eliminates practices that humiliate students. And it assesses students on their progress in reaching personal physical activity and fitness goals. A quality PE program exposes kids to the fun and long-term benefits of movement – it’s really that simple.”

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a minimum standard for elementary students of 150 minutes a week of physical education and 225 minutes a week for middle school students. They also recommend that the successful completion of physical education be a requirement for high school graduation.

The characteristics of a quality PE program are:
· Provides daily physical education.

· Meets the needs of all students, not just the athletically-inclined.

· Motivates children to embrace health and fitness for a lifetime.

· Provides a wide variety of health and fitness activities, including individual and small-sided team sports, to promote an active lifestyle.

· Provides authentic, individualized assessment – including fitness testing and cognitive testing – as a meaningful part of the learning process, empowering students to value and oversee their personal lifetime fitness.

· Incorporates technology (e.g., heart rate monitors, pedometers, “exerlearning” games, etc.) into physical education on a regular and continuing basis. · Grades on effort and fitness knowledge, not athletic ability.
These components of a quality PE program, combined with the AHA recommendations above, should provide the foundation for legislation requiring quality, daily physical education in every state, for every school, K-12.

It needs to be a funded mandate.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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