Student Fitness Takes a Step Backward

Regular exercise for children and teens is essential for physical and mental health. However, a recent study in California suggests that student fitness levels have suffered a setback. Fortunately, the poor results have motivated Californians to pitch in and turn things around.

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Student Fitness Levels Decline

A recent report in California shows that physical fitness levels among students has started to lag. After several years of improvements, just 31% of students passed in all six of the areas of fitness in which they were tested this year. The study focused on fifth, seventh and ninth graders. Fifth graders performed the poorest, with just 25% of students passing. But students in all three grades performed worse than last year.

The tests cover a variety of areas of fitness. For example, students' body fat and flexibility are measured. They must also perform a variety of tasks designed to test aerobic capacity, abdominal strength and upper body strength. These involve running a mile, as well as completing sit-ups, pull-ups and push-ups with parameters for passing the tests varying by age and gender.

The results in California are discouraging. But California is not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions, only 33% of high school students attended daily physical education classes in 2009. Furthermore, only 18% of high school students had participated in 60 or more minutes of physical activity on each day of the week before they were surveyed. The 60 minute minimum is the recommendation put out by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for children and teens ages 6-17.

The Need for Physical Education

There is a clear need for physical education in schools. When students participate in physical education in school, they learn healthy, active behaviors that can help them throughout their lives. This activity also helps students to develop strong bones and muscles, control their weight, maintain focus and reduce stress.

While some schools may limit physical education requirements in order to focus scarce resources on academics, they sacrifice the well-rounded approach that not only produces physically healthier students, but mentally healthier students as well. Regular physical activity has been shown to boost academic achievement, improve efficiency in academic performance and improve concentration. It may seem counterintuitive to carve out academic time for physical education in order to improve academics, but it's demonstrably effective.

Ideas in California

Leaders in California are aggressively responding to their state's poor student fitness levels. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction is Tom Torlakson, who spent 26 years as a high school cross country coach. Torlakson has launched Team California for Healthy Kids, a program designed to turn things around through a multi-faceted approach.

The program will use celebrity athletes, community leaders and others to inspire and increase physical activity among students. Additionally, the program aims to raise the amounts of fresh fruits, vegetables and water students consume in schools, early childhood centers and after-school programs. With the help of stars like former NBA great Bill Walton and NFL great William 'Bubba' Paris, Torlakson hopes that soon, far more than one-third of California students will be physically fit.

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