In high school, I tried to avoid gym. Who wanted to change into shorts in the middle of the school day, run a mile, and return to class sweaty—because who really used those showers? Not me. I had friends whose physical education requirements were waived for any reason from varsity sports to asthma. While my friends took extra nonathletic electives, I learned the nuances of badminton. I used to wonder why I had to do it.
Now I know: It wouldn’t hurt to take physical education more seriously. After all, being active hosts a number of critical advantages to students’ wellness. It builds strength, endurance, healthy bones and muscles. With the persistent problem of childhood obesity in the United States, the importance of being physically healthy cannot be overstated. Physical activity also builds self-esteem, sharpens focus, improves behavior and boosts attitude. It may even link to higher test scores! Some research indicates that students who earn mostly As are almost twice as likely to engage in regular physical activity than students who earn mostly Ds and Fs. It seems natural that these huge benefits should have a place in any school’s curriculum.
Despite the obvious advantages of physical education, many schools have trouble integrating the physical education requirement effectively into a school day. Some schools may decide that money and time should be geared toward academics, for example. However, most studies of physical education agree that at least a half hour of daily physical activity is the minimum, and this may be hard to incorporate into the flow of the school day. Additionally, because requirements of physical education can be vague, it may be too easy to exempt, substitute or waive physical education requirements. Nearly sixty percent of states allow students to complete their physical education requirements using online courses. And for younger students, a half hour recess at lunch does not always assure physical activity. Until school systems take physical education requirements more seriously, the benefits of physical education in the curriculum may not be fully recognized.
As schools try to strike the right balance, it is important to create a supportive community around physical education and health. Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association (AHA), recognizes that physical activity must become “a part of the daily routine” in order to make strides in correcting health problems in America today. Students need to be encouraged to pursue their interests in different physical activities—sports, playing outdoors, exploring. In the classroom or out, the result will be all-around healthier, happier kids.