Contribution of Physical Education and Sport to Health-Related Fitness in High School Students

By Beets, Michael W.; Pitetti, Kenneth H. | Journal of School Health, January 2005 | Go to article overview
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Contribution of Physical Education and Sport to Health-Related Fitness in High School Students


Beets, Michael W., Pitetti, Kenneth H., Journal of School Health


Reduced physical activity during childhood and adolescence represents a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease in adulthood. (1,2) Cross-sectional and longitudinal research has established a positive relationship between participation in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and increases in cardiovascular fitness, weight management, and reduction of adult-like risk factors such as obesity, hyperlipidemia, and high blood pressure for chronic diseases. (1-3) To derive health and fitness benefits from moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, recommendations include an accumulation of at least 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week. (4) Despite widespread knowledge about engaging in regular physical activity, levels of physical activity in US adolescents (aged 14-18) decline with increasing age, (5) with the greatest reductions occurring between ages 14 to 21. (4)

Physical education classes (PE) and school-sponsored sports programs (SSS) represent two areas where adolescents can engage in physical activity of sufficient quantity and quality to promote health-related benefits. Since most youth attend school, the role of PE in the development of physical activity behavior, and subsequent physical fitness, has become a central tenet in reducing sedentary behavior. (6,7) In addition, the school PE environment provides a primary source of physical activity and fitness instruction, serves as a change agent in youth health status, (8) and plays a prominent role in promoting physical activity in this population. (9)

Reports show enrollment in PE class declines significantly with increasing age, with the greatest reduction occurring between eighth and 11th grade. (6) Moreover, time spent in physical activities during PE class at an intensity and duration to elicit cardiovascular development are insufficient. (10-12) With enrollment in PE decreasing with increasing age and minimal time spent in activities that provide heath-related benefits, it seems unlikely that participation in PE class alone would produce health-related improvements in adolescents. An alternative to PE involves participation in SSS programs. While enrollment in PE declines with age, participation in SSS remains relatively stable between ninth and 12th grade. (13) School-sponsored sports programs allow youth to participate in weekly training sessions that contribute to increased energy expenditure, (14) which may increase physical fitness. While the elements of intensity and duration are present in SSS conditioning programs (three to four days a week-1 practice sessions), almost one-half (44.6%) of US high school students do not participate in such sports, leaving many students with PE as their only physical activity alternative. (15)

The contribution of SSS to physical fitness compared to sole participation in PE remains unclear. This study compared levels of health-related fitness of adolescents enrolled in PE who were either participants or nonparticipants in SSS during the school year. The primary component of health-related fitness examined in the study included cardiovascular fitness, measured using the 20-Meter Shuttle Run, with secondary analysis comparing muscular strength (ie, number of 90[degrees] push-ups), flexibility (ie, sit and reach), and body mass index (BMI).

METHODS

Procedures

Participants. Participants included 187 (120 males and 67 females) high school adolescents (males = 16.1 [+ or -] 1.34 years; females = 14.5 [+ or -] 1.21 years) from a Midwestern city. Number of students at each age included: 14 (n = 30), 15 (n = 57), 16 (n = 42), 17 (n = 32), 18 (n = 21), and 19 (n = 5). Sampling was purposive in that participants had to be enrolled in school PE classes. (16) Staff performed the administration and collection of data on the fitness tests. Testing was part of a routine, school-based mandated fitness test. The study was approved by the university internal review board, and testing was conducted in March 2003.

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