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Bring back the physical education requirement

| Wednesday, March 23, 2022

In 2014, the University announced the elimination of the physical education requirement and the swimming competency test for first-years. The announcement marked a transition to focus on a more holistic approach to wellness, combining elements of physical and mental wellness, spirituality, cultural competency and academic success.

The University made a mistake by eliminating the gym requirement. We need to go back to requiring first-years to take good, old-fashioned gym classes.

Currently, the Moreau First-Year Experience plays the role of promoting wellness in first-years’ lives while helping them integrate into college life. The Moreau course certainly helps first-years slow down and reflect on their transition to Notre Dame. However, it lacks one key element that the gym requirement possessed.

Exercise.

Mental health disorders are a major problem on college campuses. Exercise is an effective method of managing mental health disorders. What would be an important habit to attempt to instill into first-years? Exercise.

Let me be clear, Moreau emphasizes the importance of building habits to combat stress and promote wellness. However, a physical education requirement where students are forced to exercise for 50 minutes 2-3 times a week is a much more effective means of promoting a healthy lifestyle. 

Sure, Moreau provides students with an opportunity to reflect and learn and grow, but the reality is first-years aren’t going to take a whole lot away from sitting in a classroom for 50 minutes. 

Instead of telling students how they can feel better, the University has an opportunity to actually make students feel better by reinstating the physical education requirement. Michael Otto, a psychology professor at Boston University, said in an American Psychological Association story that moderate exercise can lead to a mood enhancement within five minutes. Additionally, exercise can lead to subtle improvements in focus and social stimulation — which happen to be crucial aspects to thriving on a college campus.

Everyone understands college life is not a model for a healthy lifestyle. This makes sense, make the most of your young years by having fun — and maybe learning. 

But one thing college kids absolutely need to do in order to stay healthy both physically and mentally is exercise. So much of school takes place digitally now that students are staring at screens all day. It’s not healthy. 

Moreau classes may occasionally involve a minor excursion on campus, but they still continue to coop up students while standing, at least partially, in place of an opportunity to try to ensure students are utilizing a crucial tool to take care of themselves and also emphasize the lifelong value of exercise. 

With a Chick-fil-A popping up in Duncan Student Center and Taco Bell and Smashburger in LaFortune, the least Notre Dame can do is force first-years to exercise.

Obviously, a lot of Notre Dame students already regularly exercise or understand the benefits of exercising. But students can get swamped with schoolwork, activities and their social life, making it easy to not prioritize getting outside or working out. With a couple hours of class a week carved out specifically for a gym class of their choosing, students have no choice but to exercise and, hopefully, let loose.

Gym classes are fun, too. Now, I know I’m at Notre Dame and a lot of students find their classes “fun,” but real fun is playing a pick-up game of some sport you can’t normally play on your own and meeting a whole bunch of people while doing it. Fun is learning something new.

Past Notre Dame physical education courses offered a slate of traditional sports in addition to less traditional options such as curling, dance, self-defense and pickleball, according to the South Bend Tribune. Learning new things is cool. There are some cool tidbits students learn in Moreau, but are first-years in college more likely to look back at their time in school and remember a TED talk or the time they learned curling?

While we’re at it, let’s bring back the swim test too. Sure, statistics and physics are useful. You know what else is useful? Knowing how to swim.

The increased awareness about mental health on college campuses is great, but we’re overthinking it. Of course students need to be aware of tools and strategies to have a healthy transition to college. But Notre Dame has an opportunity to directly ensure students are practicing an extremely effective method to combat anxiety. Notre Dame took advantage of this opportunity for most of its history. But now it’s gone. Resurrecting the gym requirement would do wonders for this campus and the next generation of college students.

You can contact Ryan at [email protected]

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

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About Ryan Peters

Ryan is a sophomore in Knott Hall from Lake Forest, Illinois. He is majoring in business analytics and minoring in constitutional studies. He currently serves as Notre Dame News Editor for The Observer. Follow him on Twitter @peterrsryan.

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