Physical activity is essential to the health and development of a child. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the rate of childhood obesity has tripled over the past 30 years. Childhood obesity can lead to a variety of health problems, both immediate and long-term. Not only are obese children and adolescents currently at greater risk for maladies such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, pre-diabetes and bone and joint problems, as adults they are also more likely to develop serious illnesses such as heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer. Research also shows that obesity can have a negative impact on one’s self-esteem. As an institution where kids spend eight hours of their day, schools have an inherent responsibility to provide an environment conducive to both mental and physical productivity. Through sports and physical education, children and adolescents can learn to have a healthier lifestyle, prevent health problems and build their confidence.
Physical education class should provide a daily dose of proper physical activity. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children and adolescents (ages 6-17) get at least one hour of physical activity a day, with most of the activity focused around aerobics. More intense activity such as muscle and bone strengthening should be implemented about 3 times a week. Thus, there are many options when it comes to activities in physical education class. Basic aerobic exercises such as jumping jacks and running (whether in place or on a track) are a good starting point; additionally, these basic activities are age appropriate for most children grades k-12. Elementary and middle school children might benefit from interactive activities such as hopscotch, which involves jumping, balancing and learning to take turns. This age group would also benefit from having fun equipment including hula hoops, jump ropes and hacky sacks. High school students, on the other hand, might prefer activities such as cycling, weight lifting, aerobics dance, Pilates or yoga. These activities are beneficial both within and outside of classroom walls. By establishing comprehensive physical activity as a regular part of one’s education, students learn to integrate exercise into their lifestyles. This helps maintain one’s health and self-esteem.
Sports are a useful way to remain physically active outside of school, but they have many other benefits as well. Research studies at Michigan State University show that children who participate in sports tend to do better in school, and are less likely to engage in drug and alcohol abuse. Studies also suggest that playing sports may enhance a child’s social skills by promoting a sense of belonging. A popular sport such as basketball, for instance, has many benefits. Playing basketball can build muscle, increase endurance, improve hand-eye coordination and develop discipline and concentration. In addition to its health benefits, basketball has the advantage of being a practical sport. It can be played all year round, both indoors and outdoors. Players can join a team, play one on one, or simply practice shooting hoops in their leisure time. Tennis is another popular dynamic sport. Research shows that tennis players tend to have improved cardiovascular health, bone health, less body fat, and improved aerobic fitness. Since it involves predicting when and where a ball will land, tennis helps develop sharp hand-eye coordination skills as well. Participating in a sport such as competitive rowing can have its advantages, especially for those who love being around water. Rowers get a complete body workout, increased strength, flexibility and aerobic muscle conditioning. When participating in big events, rowing involves teamwork; all the members must be synchronized in order to move as a unit.
Society is increasingly aware of the importance of being physically active, especially in light of childhood obesity statistics. Multitudes of research show that being active is essential to the well-being of a person; it is now our responsibility as a society to utilize that information. Sports and physical education are vital factors when it comes to keeping kids healthy. Physical education class is no longer forcing a student to climb a rope to the top of the ceiling; it’s about keeping kids active and teaching them the importance of staying active. The activities that one engages in during gym class instills values that the student can carry with them beyond the classroom. Sports, whether part of a school program or not, have continuing benefits that help kids build strength, maintain a healthy body weight, develop social skills and build self-esteem. By being a part of a team and its accomplishments, students can develop a positive sense of self-worth and pride.