Schools Should Encourage Students to Be Active; Physical Education; an Hour of Activity Each Day Improves Children's Cognitive Development

By Eyler, Amy | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), June 11, 2013 | Go to article overview

Schools Should Encourage Students to Be Active; Physical Education; an Hour of Activity Each Day Improves Children's Cognitive Development


Eyler, Amy, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Way back when I was in fifth grade at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic school in Cleveland, my teacher was Sister Mary Milburg. Little did I know then that even in her 40th year of teaching, she was way ahead of her time.

Sr. Milburg had some peculiar teaching habits. After finishing a lesson, she would have us stand up, carry our books and walk, snaking through the neat rows of desks while singing some kind of ditty.

We did a few laps, then got back in our seats and switched books for the next lesson. We didn't really think anything of it, but she knew that a little bit of activity in between long stretches of sitting would make us less fidgety and more attentive.

Her strategies are now backed up by recent studies that indicate physical activity enhances not only children's health and development but also boosts their academic performance.

Unfortunately, many U.S. children and teens have grown accustomed to a sedentary lifestyle. Only about half of them get that much activity on a daily basis, increasing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other diseases that can jeopardize their well- being throughout their lives.

In a new report released by the Institute of Medicine, a prestigious, independent organization that provides advice on health and medical issues, experts recommend that physical education be designated as a "core subject," just like math and reading.

The report, of which I am a co-author, says schools should provide at least 60 minutes of vigorous or moderately intense physical activity daily for students. Because physical activity also is critical to children's cognitive development and academic success, schools can play a key role in encouraging and providing opportunities for kids to be active.

Even though physical education classes are obvious places for kids to move around, there are other options for working more physical activity into the school day, the report notes. These include daily recess and dedicated breaks between lessons. Before- and after-school programs also can include physical activity and, when appropriate, kids should bike and walk to and from school.

Most kids spend many hours of their time at school, making it an ideal place for them to get physical activity. Not all kids have access to yards or parks when the school day ends, so providing more activity during school hours can, in many ways, "level the playing field" and help counteract the increasing amount of sedentary screen time kids get after school. …

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