Less sit, more fit: Cutting gym class time is not the solution to developing successful youth

By Rachel B.

I find myself sitting in math class staring at the clock. What am I waiting for? I’m patiently waiting for the clock to strike one o’clock, that time of day when I get to leave my desk, my pencil and notebook and go to the gymnasium. I don’t know about any of you, but growing up my favourite class was always gym. That hour during the day where I could run around, break a sweat and not be falling asleep staring at numbers. It was a time to re-energize and reset my mind for the rest of the day. So why are they cutting this quality time out of the curriculum more and more each year? For some reason people are convinced that more time spent on subjects like math, science and reading will develop more prepared and successful youth. This means there is less time during the school day for subjects such as gym, art and music.

Personally, I think that this approach is hindering youth development. Current research also supports this point of view. Physical activity is such an important component for healthy growth and development. School can be a very stressful time for many youth. They are experiencing new relationships, bodily changes and pressure from parents to perform well. Physical activity is a great outlet to release stress and increase self-confidence. School-based physical education programs engage the students in regular physical activity and help them acquire skills and habits necessary to pursue an active lifestyle (Trost & Van der Mars, 2009).

In today’s society there is a major increase in obesity levels at young ages. People seem to believe that this is because:
1. There is an increase in screen time and technology use by youth today.
2. There is a greater intake of processed and fast foods and therefore youth are not eating a well balanced diet.

Yes, these are both logical reasons for why we are seeing higher obesity rates. However, a major issue that people are ignoring is the reduced amount of time youth are spending engaging in physical activity. Participating in gym class influences what youth participate in outside of school as well. Gym class is a time to learn rules and try many different sports to test students’ abilities. These opportunities allow students to see their strengths and what activities they enjoy most. This may influence if they enrol in an after school or community sport/recreation program. Quality early learning experiences not only develop physical competencies, but also perceptions of competence that underlie the motivation that is vital to continuing participation (Kirk, 2005). Some students don’t enrol in additional programs or participate in physical activity after school so gym is their only opportunity to be active. Gym class also helps students develop transferable skills. Participation and exposure to a variety of activities promote skills such as team building, problem solving and leadership skills. If administrators were making evidence based decisions they would be increasing physical education programs in school settings rather than making cuts.

The Research and Links to Physical Activity and Academics
Research demonstrates that there is a link between physical activity and academic performance. Studies strongly suggest that engaging in physical activity throughout the school day enables students to be more focused and ready to learn. Research in this area indicates that aerobic exercise can improve memory and cognitive functioning in school-age youth (Strong et al, 2005). It is recommended that youth participate every day in 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity (Strong et al., 2005). Many youth are not meeting this requirement if schools are only offering 30 minutes of physical activity three times per week.

Suggestions for Teachers:
There are other options for teachers to achieve increased physical activity for their students outside of the allotted gym class time. Learning does not need to be stationary. Teachers can choose to introduce more interactive lessons in the classroom setting. Classes can take place outdoors and teachers can enhance learning by having the students moving in some form. Teacher’s can also explain gym class plans in the classroom before going to the gymnasium. This approach will save time sitting around waiting for instructions and increase activity time.

References:

Kirk, D. (2005). Physical education, youth sport and lifelong participation: The        Importance of early learning experiences. European Physical Education Review, 11(3), 239-255. doi:10.1177/1356336×05056649

Strong, W. B., Malina, R. M., Blimkie, C. J., Daniels, S. R., Dishman, R. K., Gutin, B.,         Trudeau, F. (2005). Evidence Based Physical Activity for School-age Youth. The Journal of Pediatrics, 146(6), 732-737. doi:10.1016/j.jpeds.2005.01.055

Trost, S. G., & Van de Mars, H. (2009, January). Why we should eliminate physical            education to increase time for reading and math, the theory goes, and achievement will rise. But the evidence says otherwise. Educational Leadership,  3(1), 60-66. Retrieved October 2, 2016.

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4 Responses to Less sit, more fit: Cutting gym class time is not the solution to developing successful youth

  1. Meghan O says:

    I definitely agree with everything you said Rachel. I think that providing structured time during school time to be physically active is very important. By doing this it’s giving the opportunity to create healthy habits without having to put much effort into doing so. Having gym class “forces” everyone going through the school system to become physical active and I believe this should be mandatory. Rachel touched on increasing obesity rates, which school districts should be using as motive to keep gym classes mandatory to help maintain these rates.

    I remember in high school, taking a Physical Education or gym class was only mandatory in grades nine and ten. After these grades, there were physical activity classes offered but not compulsory. Like Rachel has said, there are many benefits to being physically activity, so why not make gym class something everyone has to participate in? Rachel has mentioned some of the positive things that would come from this, like increased cognitive and memory functioning. Having said this, I remember in high school a lot of students feeling uncomfortable and trying to get out of gym class. Educators need to recognize this and make gym class more inclusive and enjoyable for all students. Having different types and levels of activities during gym class can do this. As well as making sure all students feel like they can participate at their own pace. I also believe that having a more task-oriented climate in still in high school gym classes will help keep everyone interested.

    Good job Rach!

  2. robbiepark95 says:

    Great blog Rachel. You touched on a lot of key points, which many of us can refer to. I can agree 100% that my favourite class was P.E (Gym class). I couldn’t wait to burn off the loose energy in my system. I think that comes with me being a kinaesthetic learner, where I find it hard to complete a task when I’m just sitting looking at a textbook or a whiteboard. (also one of the reasons I chose to take Charlene’s class – Discussion = involvement). One of my high school teachers actually engaged physical activity into her classes and it proved to be successful. Her Geography class had the highest success rate in the country, and I could bet it was due to her teaching methods. Every person in the class was involved, and just as you feel like you were going to fall asleep after a double period of maths was slowly killing your brain cells, you were suddenly engaged.

    Like Meghan commented, there are lots of students who do not wish to participate in P.E. This could just be their personal interest, as I know they understand that physical activity is important. These students would usually rather go to the gym or go for walks as opposed to taking part in sports they may not like such as soccer, basketball, volleyball and gymnastics (these were the 4 main areas we focused on in high school). I do agree with you Rachel that obesity levels are rising and one of the major reasons for this is the lack of people willing to participate.

    I can link this back to my own blog and say that laziness is huge in the drops of participation in gym class. I agree with Rachel and Meaghan that Gym class should be mandatory at all ages. You shouldn’t be allowed to drop gym class through-out high school. The schools should recognize that youth have different sport interest, and therefore should split them into categories so that they are all getting the physical activity that is recommended to their specific age.

    Well done Rachel 🙂

  3. swatson12 says:

    Great job Rachel! This is a topic that is discussed a lot and I think there should be more research put into looking at this since it is such an easy and guaranteed way for children to get physical activity during the day. I know when I was in school I loved gym class because it gave you that extra boost of energy to help get through the day before you went back to your desk again. It was a time to reduce stress as you had mentioned and you were able to just play and be active without worrying about taking notes.

    Within the camp that I work at we have seen many children start to not be able to play tag for very long or complaining that they are tried when we do our morning games of tag or other games outside. These children are not used to being physically active and especially active outside a lot of the time. We have to encourage them to get out and play when they want to go inside or sit on the bench. This is a big problem and we need to find ways to help children improve upon this so they are able to do something as simple as playing a game of tag without having to take a break.

    Your suggestion for teachers I also think is a great idea because getting children up and moving during the day will help them with learning and also taking in the information. I know when we would have classes outside in biology or other classes learning about leaves or birds for example, I remembered those lessons more then I did the in-class lectures a lot of the time. Getting to get outside in the fresh air and experience things for yourself makes a big impact when learning.

    Again, great blog post! I really enjoyed it! 🙂

    Stephanie W.

  4. colinougler says:

    This was such a smooth read, written like a conversation rather than an official report, so I loved that about it.

    When it comes to topics like this, I automatically think of two things.

    1) Children should not be introduced to such intense amounts of screen time – there is no need for us to be so reliant on it. Childhood is about development, and as seen in the documentary we recently watched, play is needed in order to help with so many aspects of positive youth development. I am currently at work at a dance studio and I’m hearing 7 year olds talk about using their cell phones, which is outrageous for their age because they do not have the responsibility to have one. Most of them can’t keep track of their dance shoes, let alone take care of an expensive device their parents pay a bill for each month.

    2) It is important for parents to take the time to find out what intrigues their children – for you, math was not your forte, but for someone else it may be. You may like gym class, but they may like doing suduko because of the way it makes them feel, similarly to you with gym class. For me, it’s dance. For my best friend, she became an accountant because she finds those types of puzzles fun. Parents should provide an opportunity, even if through simple means if they cannot afford a recreation program whether it is sport related or not, for children to experience different activities to help them figure out what will help that child make the best use of their free time and be away from screens.

    A simple trick that teachers could use to help blend the two is taking a moment to stretch to get the body moving, even if only for a brief moment. Regardless of how inactive one is, everyone gets restless sitting in a chair, so why not make the best of the situation and have it work for everyone?

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