Schools Should Be Doing More To Get Students Physically Active

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Public schools who feel the pressure to perform academically at a level to hit certain testing targets are often tempted to shift their focus from extracurricular activities to the core subjects.

Unfortunately, many school systems see physical education as an extracurricular activity and therefore have reduced the amount of time students are given to not only be active during the day, but learn valuable lessons about healthy lifestyles.

Today a new report from the Institute of Medicine calls for all schools to offer 60 minutes of physical activity every day to their students. As these students spend several hours a day at school, this could provide them with enough activity to carry through the week and begin building healthy habits to carry on through adulthood.

According to the report, only half of America´s students receive the proper amount of physical activity each day. This could be corrected by daily physical activities, breaks, classroom exercises, after school events or simple recess. The report calls upon the US Department of Education (ED) to enact these changes in America´s schools.

“Schools are critical for the education and health of our children,” Harold W. Kohl III, professor of epidemiology and kinesiology at the University of Texas School of Public Health (SPH) and chair of the committee that wrote the report, said in a statement.

“They already provide key services such as health screenings, immunizations, and nutritious meals. Daily physical activity is as important to children´s health and development as these other health-related services, and providing opportunities for physical activity should be a priority for all schools, both through physical education and other options.”

According to Kohl III and report authors, schools should think of physical education as a core academic subject and therefore give it the attention it deserves. There are some states which have a daily physical activity requirement, but no nationwide policy exists to ensure school-aged children are being active. This report recommends schools offer 30 minutes of activity to elementary students and 45 minutes to middle and high school students. This time shouldn´t only be spent in the classroom learning about physical education; at least half of this time should be spent in moderate to vigorous activity, says the report. Additionally the report claims students should be given ample opportunity to be active in other aspects of school life, be it extra curricular activities or in school events. In other words, no child should find themselves wanting for physical activity.

As a corollary, the report cites research which found that being active can even improve academic performance, thereby increasing test scores on which schools are so intently focused.

For instance, last March a report from the GENYOUth Foundation, National Dairy Council (NDC), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American School Health Association (ASHA) found that students who were physically active and ate nutritious meals performed better at standardized testing, particularly in math and reading.

Today´s report suggests students be given a variety of physical activities to engage in, including aerobic and resistance exercises. These activities can be in short bursts or longer durations, so long as the students are up and active. The report also calls for frequent breaks in class to get students moving and keep them focused. Furthermore, the report says recess should never be revoked as a form of punishment or replaced with extra classwork or homework.

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