Physical activity is essential for children’s health and well-being. Although schools have plenty of opportunity to promote physical activity for pupils, there is an alarming tendency to reduce the number of physical education classes. Since 2001, when the No Child Left behind Act came into force, schools have placed considerable emphasis on improving academic scores at the cost of physical fitness, and thus general health. A lack of physical education in schools proves to be extremely detrimental to American children’s health and the future of American nation in general. By contrast, physical fitness promotes better physical and mental health and improves academic performance. Under careful supervision of highly qualified teachers it can foster healthy habits in children at an early age.
Primarily, physical fitness decreases the levels of obesity and related costly diseases among children as well as influences their general health. Numerous studies prove positive effect of physical activity on children’s health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, advantages of regular physical activity include development of strong bones and muscles, improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels, increased strength, endurance, and self-esteem, reduced anxiety and stress levels, to name but a few (“Adolescent and School Health: Physical Activity Facts”). Therefore, it can be deduced that inadequate physical activity equals more unhealthy children. A decreased number of physical education lessons results in the soaring rates of overweight children. In addition, schools fail to provide the recommended amount of physical exercise for children. Thus, despite 60-minutes daily physical activity recommended for schoolchildren by the US Department of Health and Human Services, 43 percent of ninth-grade students and only 20 percent of twelfth-grade student attended physical daily education lessons in 2013 (CDC, “Adolescent and School Health: Physical Activity Facts”). As a result, more than 17% of American children are overweight or obese, and the rate is going to soar. Obesity is likely to become the epidemic of 21st century unless the government, local communities and schools rethink the role of physical education in school curriculum.
Secondly, physical activity also stimulates certain biological processes that are critical to academic performance. Despite a deeply-seated belief that physical education classes hinder academic results, there is ample evidence pointing to the contrary. For instance, a study conducted by Taras proved that increased time of physical education lessons does not have negative effect on academic scores (“Physical Education in America’s Public Schools” n.d.). Furthermore, the scientist argued that cognitive benefits of physical activity may adequately compensate for time spent away from academic areas (Singh et al., “Physical Activity and Performance at School”). There are also numerous literature suggesting that participation in sports and all forms of physical activity enhances cognition (information processing), memory, concentration, and stimulates brain functions, thereby improving academic behavior, academic achievements and grades, as well as time spent on performing a task for schoolchildren (Singh et al., “Physical Activity and Performance at School;” CDC. “Adolescent and School Health: Physical Activity Facts;” Hellmich. “More PE, Activity Programs Needed in Schools”). Singh et al., introduce specific mechanisms of relation between movement and cognition. First, physical activity speeds up the flow of oxygen-saturated blood to the brain. Secondly, it increases norepinephrine and endorphin levels, which results in reduced stress and better mood. Finally, it fosters creation of new nerve cells and supports synaptic plasticity (Singh et al., “Physical Activity and Performance at School”). Apart from the physiological mechanisms, there are indirect ways through which physical fitness influences academic performance. For instance, better health associated with ample physical activity reduces the number of days off due to illness, which in turn has a favorable impact on school performance. Additionally, students involved in physically activities are less likely to participate in risky behaviors and play truant from school.
Last, but not the least, physical fitness promotes healthy habits and lifestyle in children, which is critical for the future of American nation. 45 minutes of physical fitness a day is unlikely to improve pupil’s health drastically. However, for the majority of schoolchildren it equals to total participation in physical activity. Thus, only 21.1 percent of high school students are engaged in after-school physical activities, while most children hardly have any exercise except for PE lessons (CDC, “Adolescent and School Health: Physical Activity Facts”). They tend to lead sedentary lifestyles, sitting in front of TV or computer and playing games. Therefore, a decrease in physical education in schools equals fewer healthy lifestyle options available to children and increased prevalence of obesity and weight-related disease, which places a heavy burden on the state budget. Consequently, physical fitness is a cost effective way in order to promote children’s health. Moreover, involving children in physical activity can help prevent risky behaviors like smoking, drugs and alcohol intake, unhealthy eating, antisocial behaviors and violence. Physical education (PE) can also teach children how to be active and participate in sports and activities outside of school.
Nonetheless, only talented and qualified teachers are capable of providing positive activity experience and promoting healthy lifestyles. Given an extremely unhealthy way of life most people lead nowadays, the task of a PE teacher has shifted from teaching exercises and supervising children in playing games to establishing and sustaining healthy habits and active lifestyle. Thus, they should be able to engage children in a variety of activities, keep everybody moving at lessons, and encourage regular participation in physical activities after school and throughout their life. However, physical education lessons today are often sedentary. Many students spend lessons passively, thus not receiving activity recommendations. Moreover, many pupils are discouraged from exercise because they associate it with negative PE lessons experience. Thus, the use of physical force as a punishment and boring teaching manner put off students from exercise at school.
To conclude, physical fitness improves the health and academic achievement of American children. It promotes healthy living and brings long-term effects on activity levels both in school age and adulthood. The recommended 60 minutes of physical activity a day is a reasonable pay for being healthy and building strong and intelligent nation. By contrast, reduction or removal of physical fitness from school curriculum is detrimental to children’s health, causing obesity. Apparently, billions of dollars spent on treating weight-related diseases outweigh the money spent on teaching physical education. One would wonder, therefore, why Americans strive to exclude physical fitness in schools.