Incorporating Health-Fitness Concepts in Secondary Physical Education Curricula

By Goldfine, Bernard D. | Journal of School Health, March 1993 | Go to article overview

Incorporating Health-Fitness Concepts in Secondary Physical Education Curricula


Goldfine, Bernard D., Journal of School Health


Evidence continues to support the importance of regular exercise and fitness to good health.|1~ One of the nation's primary health goals for the year 2000, as articulated by the US Public Health Service, is to increase the regular physical activity among the populace. Although the need for augmented levels of physical activity has been documented, estimates indicate less than 20% of the North American adult population participates regularly in exercise likely to alter their health-related fitness,|2~ and at least 40% of the population is sedentary.|3~

Unfortunately, sedentary lifestyle patterns appear to be well established among many youth. As less active forms of entertainment such as television and video games became popular in recent decades, children became fatter|4~ and many exhibit high-risk profiles for cardiovascular disease.|5~ High-risk profiles of substantial numbers of children could potentially have long-term consequences in that 1) inactivity tends to become more pronounced as a person ages|6~ and 2) childhood risk levels are predictive of adult disease risk.|7~ If individuals' sedentary behavior patterns and risk profiles are to be altered, the younger years are the most opportune time to affect change before inactivity becomes firmly established. Elementary and secondary schools' physical education (PE) programs, which provide a highly visible means of addressing problems associated with declining youth activity and fitness levels, have come under scrutiny. Factors contributing to PE program ineffectiveness include lack of adequate PE requirements, insufficient funding, unreasonable classroom ratios, and a dearth of stimulating and informative curricula.

Regarding curricula, stereotypes of PE as merely "play time" or simply an array of competitive team sports also offered through the afterschool interscholastic sports program often are accurate. Other physical educators have focused on vigorous physical activity and standardized fitness testing, while de-emphasizing motor-skill development. Although PE programs may include all the aforementioned elements, they often are highly disparate in their objectives, areas of emphasis, and quality of programming.

An ideal PE program teaches children how to become fit and how improved fitness affects long-term health.|8~ Experts stress that examining the "how" and "why" of physical activity should be incorporated with the traditional development of motor skills and fitness activities.|9~ The basic assumption behind providing students with knowledge underlying the need for physical activity suggests attitudinal and behavioral changes will predispose students toward a more active lifestyle. Adolescence appears to be the most appropriate time to introduce a conceptual curriculum that addresses health-related benefits of physical activity. Younger children, motivated by the "here and now," usually cannot "conceptualize the abstract notion of the effects of activity on health, so their activity cannot be stimulated through personal health concerns."|10~ Adolescents, however, are intellectually capable of understanding health, fitness, and disease concepts. Knowledge about exercise and health raises students' awareness, contributes to their beliefs and attitudes, and increases their ability to make informed decisions about physical activity.|11~

Colleges have implemented conceptually oriented health-fitness curriculum and programs since the mid-1960s. These "concepts" or "foundations" PE courses, which took students off the playing fields and put them into the classroom for lectures about the effects and values of physical activity, gained wider acceptance by the late 1970s.|12~

Although a strong trend exists toward teaching cognitive courses at the college level, most students do not attend college; therefore, the need for such courses during the compulsory education years is apparent.|13~ Specifically, if the public is to be successfully influenced regarding the value of regular physical activity, the concepts approach must be started no later than junior and senior high schools at the very latest,|12~ when lifestyles are not as fixed.

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