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Preserve the physical education system

| Monday, February 8, 2016

When you think back to middle school, gym class is probably one of your best, or worst, memories. Despite your personal experiences, physical education class is one of the most important classes middle schools and high schools offer. Unfortunately, with budget cuts and increasing academic pressures, schools are beginning to explore the option of cutting physical education programs, or at least not making them mandatory. Although schools are trying to prioritize the needs of their students, physical education cannot be undervalued in this assessment. Gym class is imperative for the healthy growth and development of young students.

According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adolescents should have at least one hour of physical activity per day. While many schools offer after-school sports, these programs are not mandatory. Therefore these programs cannot be considered a sustainable substitute for gym class since it only affects a select portion of the student body. One of the biggest reasons schools are cutting back gym programs is the falling testing scores among American students. This issue has created pressure on school administrators to better prepare their students, which means creating more time for students to study. However, by taking away physical education classes, schools are actually harming student’s mental growth. According to Harvard Medical School, regular exercise improves memory and thinking skills. Their research also concluded that it reduced stress and improves sleeping patterns, especially in young adults. By keeping gym as part of their curriculum, schools will be able to better help their students develop healthy lifestyle patterns that will lead to better academic marks.

Another major reason physical education is important is that it teaches children the proper techniques and information about exercise. Anyone with access to the Internet or television knows the insane amount of advertisements for weight loss programs and exercise equipment. Unfortunately, the goal of these advertisements is to sell a product, not teach young observers how to properly use the equipment. With so much misinformation, physical education class can be an outlet for young adults to decipher between real and fake information. By teaching students the proper techniques for even simple exercises, such as squats and pushups, schools would be able to help their students develop habits that would decrease their risk of injury in the future. These programs can also show young people they do not need to spend hours at the gym to get a great workout. By using the proper techniques, they can learn to manage their time working out more efficiently. Therefore, keeping physical education in the curriculum would help educate young people on how to develop healthy and proper exercise techniques.

While this issue affects all students, the group affected most by the removal of gym classes is low-income students. According to the CDC, obesity rates among youth from households in which the parents did not attend college are double those of households in which the parents did. Unfortunately, these obesity trends begin as early as preschool, with a 24 percent obesity rate of 2-4-year olds from low-income homes. The direct correlation between income level and obesity has been proven time and time again, and gym class is one of the most crucial tools public school systems have to combat this issue.

Although schools can teach healthy eating habits and promote time for exercise, many low-income students do not have the opportunity to exercise these habits. From after-school jobs to rough neighborhood environments, many of these students are extremely limited in the amount of time they can spend outdoors. By keeping physical education programs in schools, administrators can ensure students will have the opportunity to get the exercise they desperately need.

Clearly, physical education classes are an important part of students’ development. Not only do these classes help them physically, but they also have clear mental and intellectual benefits. In addition, gym classes offer an excellent opportunity to really teach kids the correct way to exercise, which will help dispel the numerous myths surrounding different workout plans. However, gym classes are especially essential in low-income schools since they provide the students with both the time and opportunity to workout despite their external circumstances. As college students, it is important we fully understand the ramifications that eliminating physical education would have on the next generation of Americans.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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