Dr. Patricia P. Green
|AAPS HOME ABOUT AAPS OUR SCHOOLS PUBLICATIONS NEWS & EVENTS CONTACT US|
by Robert Needlman, M.D., F.A.A.P.
reviewed by Robert Needlman, M.D., F.A.A.P.
A child who is truly healthy is healthy in body, mind, and spirit. Physical health means more than just the absence of disease. It means having a body that is strong, flexible, and coordinated, and having the skills to use that body in joyful ways. If you watch three- and four-year-old children, many of them already demonstrate these fundamentals of physical health. But as children get older and spend long hours sitting in schools and doing homework, physical fitness declines, and many of them slip into an inactive, unhealthy lifestyle.
In the United States, as well as many other places in the world, there's a growing awareness of the health risks posed by inactivity and being overweight. It is commonplace for people to talk about an epidemic of childhood obesity. One cause may be a decline in physical education in schools. In the past, it was common for public schools to require daily physical education. Recently, however, the number of children who have daily P.E. has dropped, so that, as of 1996, only 19 percent of high school students have at least 20 minutes of physical education a day, and fewer than half of all middle schools require three years of P.E.
Why is physical education important?
In the past, the focus of P.E. classes was to train children to participate in competitive sports. More recently, the focus has shifted to developing healthy habits and general fitness. The hope is that children will adopt regular physical activity as a part of their lifestyle. There are four main goals of modern physical education:
• to improve physical fitness,
• to shape positive attitudes towards physical activity,
• to give children the skills they need to enjoy different physical activities,
• and to help them understand the importance of regular exercise and the connection between physical health and general well-being.
The benefits of physical education are many:
• Increased physical fitness.Fitness includes cardiovascular endurance, as well as strength, flexibility, and coordination. According to a 1995 American Heart Association report, children five years and older should have 30 minutes a day of at least moderate physical activity (walking briskly, for example), and 30 minutes of vigorous physical activity (such as running or playing basketball) at least three times a week.
• Increased attention and improved mood. Many studies show that moderate to vigorous exercise improves attention, both in children and adults. Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are typically less "hyper" in class if they have regular physical exercise. Regular exercise is a safe and effective treatment for mild degrees of depression, and it also seems to boost the mood of people who aren't depressed.
• A sampling of activities. Exposure to a variety of different physical activities--such as swimming, running, gymnastics, and other sports--helps children discover the activities that most appeal to them. With increasing coordination and endurance, they tend to enjoy the activities even more, and are more likely to continue regular activity.
• Social skills. Children learn sportsmanship, teamwork, tolerance for others who may not be as skilled as they are--and even for their own limitations.
• Self-esteem. For children who have academic difficulties or learning disabilities, physical education provides an opportunity to excel and to build up their . This is important in many arenas, including tackling tough academic tasks.
• Self-expression. For many children, vigorous, skillful physical activity provides an important avenue for self-expression. While some children draw pictures or write in their diaries, others find an outlet for powerful emotions in more physical ways. Children benefit greatly from a P.E. teacher or coach who understands this emotional side of physical activity and sports, and who forms a supportive relationship with the child.