Fitness as a school priority

News like the report that today’s kids are less physically fit than their parents were as children is so frustrating that it makes one want to hurl many red rubber dodge balls against whoever first suggested that eliminating PE classes from school might be a good way to deal with budget or curriculum demands.

We know better, don’t we? That exercise is vitally important, and its benefits go beyond the physical? And yet…

Research presented at an American Heart Association conference shows that it takes children 90 seconds longer to run a mile than their counterparts did 30 years ago. Heart-related fitness has declined 5 percent per decade since 1975 for children ages 9 to 17. The AMA says it’s the first study to show that children’s fitness has declined worldwide over the last three decades.

“It makes sense. We have kids that are less active than before,” said Dr. Stephen Daniels, a University of Colorado pediatrician and spokesman for the heart association.

Health experts recommend that children 6 and older get 60 minutes of moderately vigorous activity accumulated over a day. Only one-third of American kids do now.

An hour of (moderately vigorous) activity a day. That’s not very much. And only one-third of kids get that much.

“Kids aren’t getting enough opportunities to build up that activity over the course of the day,” Daniels said. “Many schools, for economic reasons, don’t have any physical education at all. Some rely on recess” to provide exercise.

The researchers say obesity likely plays a role, since it makes it harder to run or do any aerobic exercise. (Indeed. Just as the lack of aerobic exercise plays a role in obesity.) Too much time watching television and playing video games and unsafe neighborhoods with not enough options for outdoor play also may play a role, they said.

As in any bad news report, poverty plays a starring role: If you live in a neighborhood where’s it not safe enough to play outside, chances are good you might attend a school that has cut physical education classes for economic reasons.

Meanwhile, schools and parents face myriad other problems: Attention deficit disorder, low test scores, bullying, etc. Lack of exercise exacerbates all the bad stuff. Human bodies were built for activity. Children and young people have tremendous energy. They are built for play. Exercise is a natural outlet. It’s a potent weapon against stress for all kids, teens and adults.

Making sure that all kids develop a fitness habit will help them physically, emotionally and intellectually. Exercise makes for better students.

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