Professor and Coach Mike Hanik
The majority of children in the United States do not meet the recommended weekly amounts of physical education and physical required to maintain good health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that elementary school age childrenget 150 minutes of physical education a week. Middle school and high school age students should strive to achieve 225 minutes of physical education each week. This means that every child should be getting 30-45 minutes of physical education 5 times per week. Currently, less than 10% of school aged children engage in daily physical education.Physical education is critical to the overall development of every person. A few of the benefits of daily physical education include improved brain function, better brain development, improved behavior and self-confidence, reduced stress and anxiety, and reduced risk of chronic diseases.
Physical exercise has many health benefits; however, many people do not realize the importance of physical education and have removed it from the school day. Physical Education has been reduced because many people think that children’s academic performance will be negatively affected if time is taken from other academic subjects in order to have physical education. The truth is that physical education makes the school day better by helping improve children’smemory or just their confidence in themselves and their abilities. Many research studies have shown that children who exercise have improved memory as a result of better brain function. In a recent study, Chaddock et al. (2010)found that higher-fit children showed greater bilateral hippocampal volumes and superior relational memory task performance compared to lower-fit children. This research showed that physical fitnessincreased the size of crucial parts of the brain involved with memory.Another study byStroth et al. (2009) found a significant increase in visuospatial memory performance when children were put through a graded fitness program. Visuospatial memory is the part of the brain that is responsible for recording information about the environment and its spatial orientation. This part of the brain is what helps people navigate around a familiar city. This research reinforces that physical education is critical to the brain development and contributes to the overall academic success of all children.
In addition to its general effects on physical and cognitive well-being, regular physical activity may be linked to improved concentration and learning abilities. What happens when physical education is incorporated into a classroom environment? A study conducted by Hill et al. (2011) found that classroom-based exercise can improve cognitive function and concentration in children. Children receiving extra physical education showed accelerated psychomotor development. This improved development of manipulation, dexterity, and coordination could provide a mechanism for accelerated learning of academic skills.Children who actively participate in structured physical education have the ability to concentrate much better resulting in children being able to focus on their schoolwork. Other potential reasons why physical education helps improve concentration include increased cerebral blood flow, greater arousal, enhanced nutrient intake, and changes in body build(Shepard, 1997). In other words, exercise boosts oxygen and glucose delivery to the brain, which can help, improve brain function.
Children who participate in organized sports with other children will likely develop more self-confidence, a higher sense of accomplishment, and more developed social skills.
Reduced Risk of Chronic Diseases
Daily physical activity increases the effectiveness of children’s cardiovascular systems and lowers their risks of developing coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol. It also reduces the chances of having a stroke and developing other health complications later in life.Teaching children how to take care of their bodies and showing them the fun of physical activity through physical education can provide lifelong health benefits. The research is clear that cardiovascular risk factors present in obese children persist into young adulthood. Teaching our children healthy behaviors significantly reduces their risk of developing chronic lifestyle diseases as an adult.
Self-esteem is a term used to describe your feelings about your own worth and importance when compared to other people. Children may develop negative feelings in this area, especially when they have significant weight problems. Participation in regular exercise helps boost self-esteem and improve psychological health in both normal-weight and obese children. Petty et al. (2009) found that less than 1 hour of daily exercise benefited overweight children. The study found that these children show fewer symptoms of depression and had improved self-esteem.
Reduced Risk of Anxiety and Depression
Regular exercise helps relieve both anxiety and depression by promoting a more positive mood and facilitating relaxation. Exercise increases the brain's production of endorphins and specific mood-regulating neurotransmitters that have a beneficial effect on a person’s mood. Exercise also helpspeople relax by burning off excess amounts of adrenaline and cortisol. Too much adrenaline can make a person feel stressed, irritable and anxious.High levels of cortisol have also been linked to problems with metabolism making it difficult to control weight.
Physical activity also promotes an increase in the release of dopamine, a “feel good” chemical released by the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is important in regulating brain processes involved with movement. Dopamine also plays a role in regulating pleasurable responses in the brain as well as regulating certain aspects of cognitive function, including attention (Wang 2009).
In conclusion, these are just a few of benefits of how physical activity improves a child’s school day. Kids do not need to pound out a few miles every day on the treadmill to stay active. An hour of running around the schoolyard with friends or riding bikes around the neighborhood gets a child's heart pumping. Active play indoors also fills a child's daily exercise requirements. The chief point to be made is that an active child experiences a lower chance of having health problems in the future if they live a lifestyle involving regular physical activity. However, the benefits of childhood exercise are endless.
1) Chaddock, L., Erickson, K. I., Prakash, R. S., Kim, J. S., Voss, M. W., VanPatter, M., . . . Kramer, A. F. (2010). A neuroimaging investigation of the association between aerobic fitness, hippocampal volume, and memory performance in preadolescent children. Brain Research, 1358(0), 172-183.
2) Stroth, S., Hille, K., Spitzer, M., & Reinhardt, R. (2009). Aerobic endurance exercise benefits memory and affect in young adults. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 19(2), 223-243.
3) Hill, L., Williams, J., Aucott, L., Thomson, J., & Mon-Williams, M. (2011). How does exercise benefit performance on cognitive tests in primary-school pupils?.Developmental Medicine And Child Neurology, 53(7), 630-635.
4) Shepard, R. (1997). Curricular physical activity and academic performance (Activite physique scolaireprogrammeeetreusitescolaire). Pediatric Exercise Science, 9(2), 113-126.
5) Petty, K. H., Davis, C. L., Tkacz, J., Young-Hyman, D., & Waller, J. L. (2009). Exercise effects on depressive symptoms and self-worth in overweight children: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 34(9), 929-939.
6) Dietz, W. H. (1998). Health consequences of obesity in youth: Childhood..Pediatrics, 101(3), 518.
7) Wang, G., Volkow, N. D., Fowler, J. S., Franceschi, D., Logan, J., Pappas, N. R., et al. (2000). PET studies of the effects of aerobic exercise on human striatal dopamine release. Journal of Nuclear Medicine, 41(8), 1352-1356.