Physical education in the
United States has come a long way since the one-size-fits-all regimen of
jumping jacks and rope climbing that was the bane of the baby boomer
Today, where children learn
can determine the type of fitness lessons they receive.
"We have schools with
rock climbing walls, Zumba classes, inline skating – amazing stuff that I would
have loved to have when I was a kid," said Carly Braxton, senior programme
manager for advocacy at the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education,
Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD), a non-profit group that promotes physical
activity and education.
Even in schools constrained
by local budgets or indifference, Braxton said, imaginative physical education
teachers are finding innovative ways to get kids moving, from snow shoeing in
cold climates to treasure hunting in warm ones.
"Where there's a big
Native American population, they'll bring in tribal games, hunting and
fishing," said Braxton, whose organization is one of the managing partners
of first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move Active Schools programme.
people are among the most flexible people in the world when it comes to using
the community and the environment," she added.
of physical activity daily
recommend children and adolescents, aged 6-17 years old, get at least one hour
of physical activity daily, but in the schools where they spend much of their
day, mandates for movement vary greatly.
Thirty-eight US states
mandate physical education in elementary, middle/high and high school,
according to the 2012 Shape of the Nation Report: Status of Physical Education
in the USA, which is released by the National Association for Sport and
Physical Education (NASPE) and the American Heart Association.
But most states do not
require a specific amount of instructional time and more than half allow
exemptions, waivers, and/or substitutions, the report showed.
"Education is such a
local issue," said Braxton. "You see this variation. Even in states
with stricter mandates, these mandates don't have a whole lot of teeth."
Physical inactivity is
associated with obesity, which affects 17% of children and adolescents
in the United States – triple the rate from just one generation ago, according
to the US Centres for Disease Control.
Braxton said physical
activity translates to lower absenteeism and higher academic performance.
What research shows
"Research shows if
you're sitting for more than 17 minutes, your brain activity starts to slow
down," said Braxton. "If you're sitting in a maths class, even just a
one-minute brain break, where maybe the kids play rock/paper/scissors with
their legs instead of their hands (can help)."
Dr Jacalyn Lea Lund,
professor at the Georgia State University and past president of NASPE, believes
physical education is undervalued in classrooms increasingly driven by testing.
"Our kids get squirmy
and stressed out. We know activity can relieve a lot of stress," Lund
"There's a really good
programme called Take 10, where children take little activity breaks to do
anything from dance to music to throwing bean bags at targets," she said.
"People found it makes a huge difference."
Educating people about fitness
Jessica Matthews, a
spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise, a non-profit group that
educates people about fitness, applauds teacher-initiated activity breaks, as
well as the introduction of cutting edge programmes such as yoga and martial
arts, to local school districts.
She said physical activity
and physical education are not interchangeable.
important," said Matthews, an exercise physiologist and former teacher.
With physical education,
she said, children refine their motor skills, acquire specific abilities and
set a foundation for lifelong fitness.
education teacher does more than just have kids run around the gym," she