Mandatory PE benefits all students
May 22, 2012 • Sam Fraser, Bear Facts Viewpoint Writer
Filed under Viewpoint
Illinois is one of only five states that requires physical education in every grade. Because of the direct benefits students gain through exercise, PE should be mandatory in every school throughout the country.
Obesity is a widespread epidemic that affects about 12.5 million children and adolescents, triple the rate from one year ago, according to the CDC. Children and adolescents are simply not getting enough exercise.
The CDC recommends 60 minutes of exercise daily, but with schoolwork, afterschool meetings, play rehearsals, clubs, music lessons, or other extracurricular activates, it can be difficult to find time for exercise outside of school. While many students play sports, those are seasonal activities and the other three fourths of the year students would benefit greatly from PE. Schools need to take it upon themselves to help students maintain a healthy lifestyle.
“Exercise is based on habits, but we need to create these habits,” Michelle Levin, PE teacher, said. “If we don’t get our young people exercising on a daily basis, then they’re more likely to go home and get stuck spending time with [non-physical] activities.”
Exercise benefits not only the body, but also the mind. Studies from as early as 1975 show the link between physical fitness and cognitive brain function. Dr. Wojtek Jan Chodzko-Zajko, professor at the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, conducted experiments on exercise physiology. He discovered that during exercise, cerebral blood flow is increased, which helps bring nutrients like oxygen and glucose to the brain. He also discovered that older adults who have good aerobic fitness are faster at executing effortful tasks than those who are less physically fit.
Other Illinois schools have been taking a healthier approach to PE. Nearby Naperville school district adapted a PE program in 1990 called the “New PE.” Students were required to stay within 80 to 90 percent of their maximum heart rates for the majority of the class period. The students are not graded on how fast they can run a mile or how many goals they score. They are graded on how long they stay in their target heart rate zones. After installing the program, the intense cardio workouts brought the school’s obesity rate 27 percent lower than the national average, according to sparkinglife.org, the organization behind the “New PE” program.
The intensified PE class also paid off academically. The district’s 8th graders took the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, which ranks math and science ability. Chinese and Japanese students’ scores usually dwarf those of Americans, but the 8th grade Naperville students in the “New PE” program placed first in the world for science and sixth for math. The only change in the students’ curriculums prior to testing was the addition of the “New PE” program.
Schools all over America should be following this example and establishing rigorous physical education programs. The absence of a PE class deprives students of necessary exercise time and the mental benefits of exercise. Every school in every state should do their students the incredibly valuable service of having mandatory PE.