Magazine article The Futurist

Toward a Fitter Future: Why Education Must Get Physical: Positive Trends toward a Healthier Future Society Include Innovative Fitness Equipment and Activities That Are Appealing to Adults. but the Fitness Ethos Must Begin Earlier in Life, and Education Should Reintroduce Physical Activity for Children, Argues a Futurist Consultant

Magazine article The Futurist

Toward a Fitter Future: Why Education Must Get Physical: Positive Trends toward a Healthier Future Society Include Innovative Fitness Equipment and Activities That Are Appealing to Adults. but the Fitness Ethos Must Begin Earlier in Life, and Education Should Reintroduce Physical Activity for Children, Argues a Futurist Consultant

Article excerpt

The promotion of healthy life-styles is benefiting from calorie-burning innovations that are almost as numerous as calorie-gaining temptations. One only has to view late-night cable TV for a little while to see an advertisement for some type of exercise equipment promising extraordinary health benefits, such as the Bowflex Home Gym. Games and activities, too, seem more imaginative than ever in promoting exercise. Activities like underwater hockey, bicycle polo, and cardio-tennis combine two or more sports or fitness activities. Active games originally intended for children, like dodgeball and kickball, have become popular with adults.

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Many companies, like Country Walkers, Backcountry Access, and Vermont Country Cyclers, offer "exercise tourism" featuring walking, skiing, cycling, or kayaking. Even electronic games are starting to promote exercise, like Dance-Dance Revolution and the suite of games accompanying the Nintendo Wii games system, getting gamers off the couch and moving.

HEALTH AND YOUTH

Organized sports for children and youth in America have largely supplanted the games that kids used to organize and play on their own. Organized sports now start as early as age five and continue through high school, with the less talented gradually dropping out and turning to inactive pursuits, including excessive use of electronic media. Meanwhile, schools' physical-education programs provide inadequate amounts of physical activity for good health, and more kids rely on motorized transport rather than walking or biking to school. All these trends converge as a major cause of the much discussed childhood obesity epidemic in America.

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This focus on elite competitive sports participation rather than life-long fitness has been particularly bad for girls. While Title IX of the Higher Education Amendments in 1972 caused a revolutionary increase in American girls' sports participation, it also caused a disproportionate increase in injuries to girls who play sports.

Michael Sokolove, author of Warrior Girls: Protecting Our Daughters Against the Injury Epidemic in Women's Sports (Simon and Schuster, 2008), has documented in heart-breaking fashion the epidemic of ligament tears and concussions in girl soccer players largely caused by playing too many games on too many teams year-round. A key point of the book is that political correctness gets in the way of reform of this unfortunate situation. Groups that ought to be loudly advocating reform are not doing so because of fear that their protest will lead to a retreat from the requirements of Title IX.

Fortunately, advocacy for and implementation of a saner approach to youth sports are starting to appear in disparate quarters. The Web site Mom steam (www.momsteam.com) provides a comprehensive clearing-house of information for parents of children and youth in sports. Momsteam does not oppose organized youth sports; rather, it seeks to make them fun and inclusive so that they contribute positively to a child's development.

There is plenty of evidence that physical activity helps children to learn better, but I am not confident that this evidence is enough to turn educational policy around. One reason is that, at least in the United States, the federal No Child Left Behind Act does not require students to meet minimum physical-fitness standards, as it does for reading and mathematics. Consequently, schools are reducing time spent on subjects other than reading and mathematics to assure that their students pass reading and mathematics tests.

FORCES AGAINST THE SEDENTARY LIFESTYLE

The quality of sedentary home entertainment seems to improve continually with no end in sight, and objective time-use studies show that Americans choose to spend a lot of leisure time with electronic media. However, other forces are working against this trend, such as:

* Medical opinion is unanimous that regular exercise offers significant health benefits for people of all ages and both sexes. …

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