I heard a rumor the other day. I heard that the new school year had begun. Can’t be, I thought. Summer just started, right? So, I decided to see if there was any truth to it. The next morning on my way to work, I paid attention to my surroundings, and sure enough…no rumor. I saw the school busses. I saw the crossing guards. I experienced the heavier traffic. I saw all the children walking and riding their bikes home from school and the playgrounds overflowing with happy, excited little people after school. Wait. Hold up. That last part isn’t true; that was what I had imagined in my mind’s eye. Where were all the kids? Why weren’t they outside jumping rope, playing tag or FourSquare, picking up a game of baseball or kickball? Riding bikes? I have a hunch it had something to do with a remote, a joystick, and a screen. http://www.kff.org/entmedia/upload/8010.pdf
It’s no secret that we, as a country, are getting bigger (and, not in a good way). The latest obesity statistics (released in January 2012) indicate that approximately 17 percent, or 12.5 million, U.S. children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese. Not overweight. Obese. That number has tripled since 1980. http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/blog/ These children are more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol (risks for cardiovascular disease); insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes; asthma, sleep apnea, and other breathing problems; joint aches and pains; and heartburn. These are no longer just “grown-up” health issues. Not to mention that these young people are often targets of bullying and at a greater risk of social and psychological problems (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Sometimes those scars don’t heal.
So, what can we do to help our youth when we are overburdened with responsibilities, in an economic crisis, and bombarded by fast-food marketing shoving dollar menus down our kids’ throats?
WE NEED A PARADIGM SHIFT!
We need to educate our parents and extended families, children, colleagues, teachers, administrators, and elected officials about the absolute necessity of physical activity! Homo sapiens have come a long way, but our genetic code still reads that we are hunters and gatherers. “From an evolutionary perspective, our brains developed while working out, walking as many as 12 miles a day (Medina, 2008) http://www.brainrules.net/ The U.S. Department for Health and Human Services released the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans in 2008. This is what it says: “…Youth can achieve substantial health benefits by doing moderate- and vigorous-intensity physical activity for periods of time that add up to 60 minutes (1 hour) or more each day. This activity should include aerobic activity as well as age-appropriate muscle- and bone–strengthening activities.” We can do this! One hour is not equal to 12 miles, not even close. We’ve got a good start with P.E. classes in some districts, but, even though children in grades K-6 are mandated by New York State to receive 120 minutes of physical exercise per week (K-3 meeting daily), there are often obstacles that prevent that from happening on a consistent basis, or ever.
We need to find creative ways for kids to move every single day! Infuse brief bouts of physical activity into classroom lessons. This does not count as NYS mandated minutes (unless approved by NYSED), but it will get kids engaged in their learning processes. It will make them more alert. It will help them retain what they are learning. Renowned Harvard professor of psychiatry, John Ratey, authored, SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain http://www.johnratey.com/newsite/index.html and he likens exercise to “Miracle Gro” for the brain! (Spark is based on the successes of a school district in Illinois that implemented a Learning Readiness fitness-based P.E. program…more on that next Blog entry!) Physical activity can also help reduce anxiety and depression.
And, do I have the attention of school personnel??? Research shows that exercise is positively correlated with greater academic achievement! Yes, it’s true. And, it’s free. In these turbulent times of academic reform, physical activity is an incredibly valuable resource and viable solution that is sadly being overlooked. Instead of cutting P.E. and recess (kudos to Meachem E.S. in the Syracuse City School District for reinstating recess!) to make more time for ELA and math, we should be making sure that physical activity is being infused before, during, and after school to build one of children’s most important muscles—the brain!—which in turn can help kids get the most out of ELA, math, and other lessons.
So, start a morning jogging program for your students. Instead of selling candy bars to pay for field trips, bring back the dance-athon. Ride bikes with your kids (don’t forget your helmets!). Revise your district’s Wellness policy to require brief bouts of physical activity in the classroom that complements your lessons (no reinventing the wheel here.) Enter your school in the International Walk-to-School Day event on October 3rd http://www.walkbiketoschool.org/. Get something going, anything.
Spread the great news about physical activity…it’s no rumor.