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Physical activity plays a big role in the transition to adulthood. Schools keep kids active through Physical Education (PE), which gives them more energy, helps improve concentration, and supports healthy interaction. There's more structure to PE than most people realize.
Physical Education can provide benefits in three main areas: Physical health, Academic Performance and Psycho / Social interaction. Childhood physical activity and fitness patterns often persist into adulthood. Physically active people need (and make) fewer visits to physicians, have lower hospital usage, and require less medical attention overall than less active individuals. To the extent that PE courses help students develop habits of physical activity, they contribute to a healthier life and a less costly American population.
Here are the state requirements:
The intent of these Education Code policies is to make daily physical education available in all grade levels and the equivalent of two years of physical education required for high school.
Active Living Research is a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which supports research to examine how environments and policies influence active living for children. According to their research, academic performance does not improve when physical education is sacrificed for classroom time. On the contrary, students who spent more time in school-based physical activity either maintained or improved their grades. Their scores on standardized achievement tests also improved, even though they received less classroom instructional time than students in control groups.
In the following short clip John Ratey, author of the popular book Spark describes research suggesting that cardiovascular fitness improves mental fitness:
Physical activity plays an important role in mental health, too -- reducing anxiety, depression and tension.
Organized, competitive sports are not offered by all schools, and budget pressures have caused an unknown number of schools to drop their sports programs. This is a loss. In an article on the subject, education journalist Jay Mathews features a study by Mathematica Policy Research that shows "although math had the biggest impact of any skill on later earnings, playing sports and having a leadership role in high school also were significant factors."
'...although math had the biggest impact of any skill on later earnings, playing sports and having a leadership role in high school also were significant factors.'
In order to make more of the school day and mitigate the chaos and conflicts of recess times, some schools have opted to add structure to recess. For example, Playworks.org is a national non-profit organization that offers a structured recess program.
The Institute of Medicine serves as an adviser on health issues to the National Academy of Sciences. In a 2013 brief, the Institute recommends both state and local policies to integrate physical activity into school programs.
In 1966, schools throughout the United States were required to identify their fittest students through the Presidential Physical Fitness Award, a series of physical tests of strength, endurance and flexibility. To the relief of the many of us who still remember bombing the pull-ups test, the program was dropped in 2012.
Students in grades 5, 7 and 9 are required to take a Physical Fitness Test (PFT) known as FITNESSGRAM, which is based on standards defined by the Cooper Institute. Yes, pull-ups are still part of the test, but there's no award at stake -- it's oriented toward health rather than shame or pride. The California State Department of Education collects data on the administration of the PFT.
Here are some resources to help your school develop physical health in your schools:
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