New York Public School Students Get Physical

Are today's kids fit by any standards? With childhood obesity on the rise and physical education programs increasingly falling victim to school budget cuts across the nation, most would likely answer that question with a resounding 'No!' But New York public schools are looking to change that negative to a positive. Are they succeeding?

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'Run, Forrest, Run!'

In the 1994 hit movie Forrest Gump, the title character's girlfriend implores him in one flashback scene to 'Run, Forrest, run!' when a gang of boys threaten to beat him up. So run Forrest does: very far and very quickly.

As if inspired by that cinematic moment, a physical education teacher at a Far Rockaway, Queens public elementary school has incorporated running in an early morning program designed to help kids build their endurance and simply get active.

Exasperated by the fact that many of his students could not run one mile, the teacher, Richard Reiss, obtained the assistance of the New York Road Runners Club, an organization that promotes not just running but health and fitness in general. Every day, the program draws 40 students to the school more than an hour before classes begin to do exactly what Forrest Gump's girlfriend urged him to do in that memorable scene.

Are other New York schools following suit?

Being Creative to Get Physical

In several New York schools, teachers are forced to become creative to get their students moving.

Yoga before an English quiz? Sure. Jumping jacks during a break from math? Yes. Lifting weights and scrambling up a rock-climbing wall in a converted storeroom? You bet.

Those are just some of the ways in which New York schools are fitting in fitness, in some cases in as little as a few minutes per day. And even schools closer than some to meeting the state-mandated 120 minutes per week of physical education for sixth-graders and younger and 90 minutes per week for seventh- and eighth-graders (no school recently audited meets these standards) are joining in.

Does Fitter = Smarter?

So why the push for push-ups?

Surely the alarming rise in childhood obesity plays a part. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that 'obesity affects 17% of children and adolescents in the United States.' This figure is three times the rate from just 20 years ago! The CDC also reports that as many as 25% of children do not participate in any physical activity at all.

There's also the fact that there is data suggesting that physical health is directly related to intelligence. A 2010 study at University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, which involved testing least- and most-fit kids selected from those who participated in treadmill runs, found that those who were most fit scored better on tests. Even certain areas of the brain, such as those affecting attention (basal ganglia) and memory (hippocampus), were found to be physically more developed in these students than in those who did little or no exercise.

So more than being just a memorable movie line, 'Run, Forrest, run!' should become a mantra for all schoolchildren who wish to perform better, both in and outside the classroom.

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