Monday, March 05, 2007
I benefited from PE - so should your kids...
Somewhere, in the back of my dresser drawer, along with my socks and old T-shirts, is a little white piece of cloth. It's a ribbon I won when I was in sixth grade, for placing third in the 100-yard dash at my school. To most people my age, that little memento would have been in the trash years ago, but I have held on to it for one reason. Until the time I received that ribbon, I had never been very good at sports.

You see, I was a chubby kid. Not obese, not heavy, just chubby and chubby kids just didn't get to play with the "big leaguers," especially when the "big leaguers" were other sixth-graders who were faster, stronger and thinner. I couldn't kick a ball very far, I never crossed the monkey bars without falling and I always became winded when I ran. But every day, I would go out to the playground for PE and try my best to improve, until one day I outran a girl in my class. Then I beat two others, then three more! I was invincible!!! I kept running. I started to gain more confidence, my weight began to drop and I was now a force to be reckoned with. Finally at the end of the year, our school held a Sports Day, sponsored by the President's Council on Physical Fitness. I ended up in the final pack of ten runners.

You know after all these years, I can still smell the air that day, feel the sun on my shoulders as I ran towards that finish line. I didn't win, but I placed and to me that was my greatest victory ever. I was a school-honored athlete. Since that time, I've won many awards, both in sports and in my professional life but that little white ribbon will always be my most prized possession.

Today, many of our schoolchildren will never have the chance to know the "thrill of victory" that I experienced. It's not because they aren't capable; they've just never been given the time or space to go out and play. With cuts to our schools' PE programs and lifestyles that promote indoor activities, many youngsters don't get as many opportunities to run, leap or jump. And that has caused a nation of heavy kids.

Now a coalition of private, public and non-profit groups including the YMCA and the National Recreation and Park Association have formed a partnership called "Play Every Day." Their goal is to make that sure every child in this country has the opportunity to get out and play at least 60 minutes every day. Sixty minutes is important, because doctors have found that keeping active for an hour can ward off heart disease and Type 2 diabetes in children.

Sixty minutes may sound easy, but it's not. That's because a lot of kids today are conditioned to watch TV or play video games during their free time. Their thumbs are the strongest muscles they have. Many parents are leery of letting their kids go to public playgrounds for safety reasons. And in some cases, new schools are being built without playgrounds, because of budget restrictions.

The group, which recently kicked off its campaign, hopes to provide money and ideas to create new programs and legislation that will make it easier for children to get off the couch and go back to the playground. Along with researchers from Stanford University, the coalition has come up with a "Community Play Index" that will measure or gauge which projects promote the most physical activity and whether they're worth funding .That means, for example, more money for school playgrounds, revenue for sidewalks for housing divisions that have only streets to play on, and funding for police presence at unsafe community parks.

The partnership hopes, if its efforts work, that more students will have the opportunity to get out, get going and get fit.

Do you know of programs in your community or schools that can help kids become more active? I'd like to hear about them.
All a kid needs is a blacktop and tetherball. At least, that's all it took to make me happy.

This reminds me of the ongoing debate regarding competition in schools, how there are some groups that believe it's damaging to a kid's self-esteem if they "lose," resulting in activities like soccer and such no longer keeping score.
I can point you to research showing that most cities have an inadequate number of parks and that obesity in girls is related to whether they live near a park. There's a press release here: http://www.unc.edu/news/archives/nov06/activity111706.htm
In the early 1960's I was in grade school. I remember when President Kennedy created the Presidents Counsel on Physical Fitness, and also remember when my PE teachers kicked it up a knotch on the physical fitness for their classes. Throughout my remaining grade school and high school years we were required to attend PE at least 3 times a week (K-12). I remember we were in great shape compared to what I see now. I went on to college and majored in PE hoping to continue what my teachers had trained me to do. When I graduated I couldn't get a job in any school district. That was the area the schools were cutting to save money. So what happened over the next 30 years? We have fat kids that grew into out of shape adults! We have parents that don't know how to be healthy and teach their kids the same. We are becoming what President Kennedy wanted to avoid: A soft nation filled with obese kids! Lets put our tax money back in the the schools PE classes so our kids can learn how to lead a happy and healthy life. PE can be fun and rewarding.
By the way, my 3 kids are in their 20's and are very fit, active, and successful in their chosen careers. You think there might be a coorelation between health and success? As for me, I'm a Personal Trainer at the local YMCA trying to instill in my clients the healthy and fit lifestyle they should have received in school.
This article is great! I wish more parents would see the benefits of this class rather than the annoyance of it. My school focuses greatly on academics from core curriculums and extracurricular sports, but PE tends to get left behind. Kids forget the importance of it because the only one showing or teaching it is the passionate PE teacher themselves.
I think that PE is actualy quite embaressing. At my school, (I am in 8th grade) the team that dosen't win the soccer/basketball/ frisby etc. game has to do wall squats for a certain amout of minuets. I understand how important PE is, but running makes me cough, I can't hit a ball for the life of me, and football confuses the heck out of me. I am anything but overweight, even a bit under weight, because I eat right and walk home everyday. Plus, having good genetics dosn't hurt.

My school spent thousands maybe even millions of $'s on these stupid heart moniters that, although they are probably helpful to prevent heart deseise (how do you spell that?), they are basicly just gross because they are coverd in the sweat from the class before ours and if you don't have enough money to buy your own strap, you have to use the schools, wich they NEVER wash, so by the end of the day, they are salty with sweat becuse our school spent money on the heart moniters instead of an air conditioning. We live in a DESERT people!

Just so you know, I did apreciate this article, and i am still going to do a health article on it!
To heck with PE! I was stuck with it every day from grade 1 to my junior year in high school.It was the only class that allowed the bullies to excel.They picked the teams and those of us who weren't good looking, coordinated or male got picked last.The real issues are the lack of secure play-spaces, the sheer number of latch-key children and parents who let their kids get away with eating junk.I hated every day of PE I was forced to attend and would never make a child endure what I did.Let them have freedom to play without nosy adults planning it all for them!
your article is great!I am a doctor from china,and I think I can use your example in my health education for my patient!
I'd say that during PE class many kids knew the "Agony of Defeat" and rarely the "Thrill of Victory". PE was torture for me. I dreaded the class as far back as I can remember. It was awful, but possibly not because PE itself was awful, but because I never had a PE teacher that I liked. Every single one, from K through 12 was the same. She would pick 2 captains...always the popular girls good at sports. The captains would proceed to pick their "teams" (it didn't matter what we were "learning"). I was always the 2nd to the last picked. How humiliating and degrading that was, day after day, year after year. I wasn't motivated to do better. It didn't matter. What mattered was how popular you were. And the PE teachers went right along with that. If PE is important, then it needs to be revamped in some way. How about having aerobics class, or spinning class, or yoga? Why is it �all about the sports?� If kids are good at sports they can go out for the various school teams there are. PE should be about getting physical exercise, not about competition.
Dr. Gupta,
Perhaps other states would be interested in the program that the governor of Minnesota has established. Governor Pawlenty has established the "Governor's Fitness Challenge". Schools in the state can apply to become a "Governor's Fit School" if they meet standards based on opportunities for physical activity during the day as well as certain meal standards.

As author of the book "Avoiding Cancer One Day At A Time", I am very worried about the long-term effect of less activity in childhood. We know that physical activity in twelve to twenty-four-year-old females has been shown to significantly reduce their risk of developing breast cancer ("European Journal of Cancer Prevention", 2004). Despite this, we are spending billions trying to "find the cure", but little to try to prevent cancer in the first place through simple measures such as exercise.

Thank you!

Lynne Eldridge M.D.
Author "Avoiding Cancer One Day At A Time"
http://www.avoidcancernow.com
Although I was by far not an athlete in elementary and junior high, I really enjoyed PE when it was offered. Dodge ball, softball and hockey were the best and the only opportunities for me to participate in an activity. To join the volley ball team etc. outside of PE required money that my parents did not have. I understand the heartache of being picked last (I sometimes was), but it didn't stop me from enjoying the opportunity to play outside of the usual monkey bars and jump rope. PE's important to expose children to things they otherwise normally may not experience. It may also lead to continued physical activity well into their adult lives. I know it has for me.
I didn't like PE, because by nature I am not very athletic and was considered a "loser". However, I was never obese. The reason was because we had longer recess, longer lunch breaks and I walked home from school. Now recess is almost non-existent and suburs are built without sidewalks where children could safely walk home after school. I still want my children to have PE, because this is the only activity they will have during the day, most likely. They are in high school, have homework and really don't have time after school to devote to real physical activity. It is a shame. Our children grow up as robots, not as normal human beings.
Thanks so much for commenting on the Partnership for Play, which we believe is vital in the fight against child obesity in America.

We hope this matter doesn't simply pass into the ether, as so many health issues do. That's why we, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other partners are holding a National Summit on Health and Livability in Atlanta, April 17-19. We hope that all concerned with health and livability matters can take time to join us in addressing the vital concerns that face our nation's health future.

John Crosby
Director, Marketing & Communications
National Recreation and Park Association
Ashburn, Virginia
Great article. Several extremely vocal community members from Marathon, Florida are insisting that TV's and video games be installed at the City of Marathon Skate Park. I understand that they are insisting that the City take away part of the newly installed soccer fields to accommodate the TV's and video gaming area. They apparently have the backing of several city council members. What a shame.
wow every one that says to heck with P.E is CRAZY!!! im in grade eight and i live for gym class! omgsh everyday i look forward to the time when we go to the gym. i play rep baseball, im on the school basketball team, and i run track. holy cow i can believe there are people who dont like P.E!!!!!
o well, anywho this article is super fantasicular wonderfull and i LOVE it.
I am a student at the University of Kentucky. I am a future teacher and understand that children don't get enough time in p.e. class. Children need to know this so it can become a lifestyle, not just a "diet" of "exercise routine". I am taking a course that is teaching ME how to teach children physical education, which will in turn take away from time they need to learn how to read and write and learn about math and do experiments in science. I went into one school in which science wasn't a sybject they even learned each day...the students only had the chance to go to the one science teacher ONE time per week! Safety and health are a person's number one needs. Why are schools making a big deal over subjects when this child may not even learn about physical activity and will die from cardiovascular disease in his or her twenties? This isn't fair to kids and our nation. Parents need to be involved with their child's life and it wouldn't make such a difference if it was taught in schools or not!
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