Question of the Week

November 26, 2007


Increased physical activity can positively affect academic performance.

Dr. Dawn Coe, an assistant professor of exercise science and fitness/wellness at Grand Valley State University in Michigan reports, "Increased physical activity during the school day may increase alertness and reduce boredom, which may lead to increased attention span and concentration. It is also suggested that increased activity levels might be related to increased self-esteem, which would improve classroom behavior as well as performance. It is possible that vigorous activity [such as the level achieved by playing sports] may provide the threshold level of activity needed to produce these potentially desirable effects."

Students who increase their levels of physical activity can not only improve their ability to do well academically, they can also reduce their risk of obesity.

"Schools can play a critical role in increasing physical activity by offering quality, daily physical education and other opportunities to recreate. Physical education not only gives children an opportunity to be active but it teaches them the skills they need to be active throughout their lifetime. ... Unfortunately, very few states require daily physical education in grades K-12.

Whether or not a school is required by the state to offer daily physical education is not always an indicator of whether or not the students in that state are being active during the school day.

"Just increasing the amount of time students are supposed to spend in physical education class is no guarantee they'll move more, a new study shows. Obesity experts have been calling for children to go to gym class more often to help stop obesity in young people. ... Most states introduced legislation this year [2006] and in 2005 to toughen up PE requirements."

Mandating PE classes at the state or district level is different that making time in the day for such classes at the school level.

"The percentage of districts that require elementary schools to teach physical education increased, to 93 percent last year [2006] from 83 percent in 2000. But just 4 percent of elementary schools, 8 percent of middle schools and 2 percent of high schools provided physical education each school day, as is recommended by the disease control agency. One-fifth of schools did not require physical education at all. ... In some instances, Mr. Wechsler said, states set policies that districts and schools do not immediately embrace, particularly when mandating physical activity. 'It takes a while for the policies to go down,' he said. 'Local school districts just haven�t been able to figure out how to make time for physical education in the school day.'"

Even those schools which have found a way to make time in their school days for PE have not necessarily found a way to get the students active.

"'Some schools are ignoring the laws and not meeting the state requirements.' And some teachers are not keeping children moving during class time, [John Cawley of Cornell University] says. His research also showed that the amount of time states required for physical education classes didn't seem to have an effect on teens' weight or risk of obesity. He says another study showed that 26% of schools in the country fail to comply with state regulations for PE, and research on elementary school students in a county in Texas showed that the children did moderate to vigorous activity for 3.4 minutes of a 40-minute class. About two-thirds of class time was spent in sedentary activity; one-quarter of the time was spent doing minimal activity. 'The real risk here is that states may increase the time requirements, think they've addressed the problem of childhood obesity and may move on to other priorities.'"

While taking time each day to be active is important, not all schools have figured out where to find the time or how to implement a quality physical education program once they have that time scheduled. Some schools are being creative.

"A runner for many years, Principal Kim Pavlovich has created a simple and inexpensive run/walk program that gives her entire school community an alternative to the couch and television. ... 'When I first began this program, I had visions of myself running with our fastest, most athletic students,' says Principal Kim Pavlovich. 'I realized quickly that the biggest impact has been on those students who are not the traditional athletes.' Three years ago, Pavlovich established an after-school run/walk program at Jefferson Elementary School in Blaine, Minnesota. As a runner for many years, she hoped to use her experience to motivate her students. ... Pavlovich's initial vision involved 20 students running around a track with her. ... She opened the program to the entire student body and had about 100 students in the first year. ... Today, 480 out of the school's 710 students take part, with all grade levels equally represented."

For those who would like to implement a similar program in their own schools, this principal has some suggestions.

"Pavlovich believes a successful program needs: * a core group of staff/parents who are truly committed to the idea and are willing to organize and run each week's event. ... * a commitment to student safety. ... Several volunteers are licensed health professionals who are available for minor injury assessment and care. ... Safety patrols are available to cross students at busy intersections during dismissal. * detailed, consistent procedures for arrival and dismissal. Parents won't allow students to participate if the event doesn't appear to be a safe, controlled environment. ... * good role models! The school schedules 'guest runners/walkers' that include staff, firefighters, police officers, the middle school principals, high school athletes, and other community volunteers to run and walk with the students."

Finally, for the classroom teachers who would like to see the benefits for their students but have no control over how much time the students spend being active in a designated PE class, Dr. Dawn Coe reminds us:

"Even in the classroom, students can still get in some of their recommended daily activity. There are many programs classroom teachers can use to incorporate physical activity into their lessons. There are lessons available for math, science, social studies, and reading, just to name a few. Classroom teachers can provide opportunities for activity during the day, especially if the school does not have required physical education classes, in order to help to improve students' academic achievement. Short bursts of activity throughout the day may help to decrease the pent-up energy kids have. This may result in increased attention spans and better behavior, which may help students to perform better in school."

Questions of the Week:
What are the state requirements for physical education classes where you live? Is your school meeting these? Whether or not you school is setting aside the specified amount of time required for PE classes, how much time do you think the students in your school expected to be physically active during a given school day? What can you and your teachers (PE and non-PE teachers) do to help students in your school be more active and reap the benefits of a more active lifestyle?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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