Term Paper: Physical Education the Importance

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[. . .] Many of the causes of obesity are ones that are combated through the education and activity of a well designed physical education program. While it is a difficult issue for many parents to address, it is important to identify children with weight management problems. In adults, the Body Mass Index (or BMI) formula is used by physicians to determine if the person is overweight, but this simple measurement is not appropriate for children; other factors such as the rate of growth, sex, and age must also be used, and generally a doctor or dietitian is needed to make a definitive decision regarding whether or not the child is a healthy weight for their height. (BUPA 2004) A couple general rules of thumb can be used, and "generally speaking, a child's weight is classed as obese when their body weight is more than 25% fat in boys and 32% in girls." (BUPA 2004) The trends of increasing weight gain in American children are quite disturbing, and while high test scores may seem to imply a positive future for a child, obesity can be a sentence to a miserable life. "Measurements of skin thickness taken over the past 30 years indicate that children in the United States are becoming increasingly obese." (AAFP 1994) Regardless of whether a child has been officially diagnosed as overweight or obese or if they appear to be a healthy weight, physical activity is still vital. "All children, even less-coordinated ones, need to be physically active. Activity may be particularly helpful for the physical and psychological well-being of children with a weight problem." (AHA 2004) The reason that children are becoming more obese and having more health problems has been linked to unhealthy habits that are picked up from their parents, the media, and peers. "Children are more likely to be overweight if their parents are obese...families tend to share eating and activity habits. In other words, most children put on excess weight because their lifestyles include an unhealthy diet and a lack of physical activity." (BUPA 2004) The way to combat this concern is through physical activity like that which is taught and reinforced in school physical education classes. Obesity can have a serious impact not only the physical functioning of the child's body, but also on their mental and emotional well-being, which is also significant in the child's ability to achieve academically and professionally through life. "Being overweight as a child can also cause psychological distress. Teasing about their appearance affects children's confidence and self-esteem and can lead to isolation and depression." (BUPA 2004)

The benefits of physical education extends beyond just the physical health issues. It is a part of the ability of a child to overall achieve in school. "All the research shows that for brain development kids need to exercise. The attitude is we need to do more serious things than P.E. That's exactly the wrong attitude to take when it comes to children and learning." (Maier 2001) The fact is that physical education is a serious school issue. Physical education participation has been shown to have a positive impact on overall academic performance. One upper-middle-class community in Illinois had concerns that too much time was going towards physical education and not enough towards other subject areas. However, instead of test scores dropping, the school tested incredibly high in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study; "Naperville scored the highest in the United States on both math- and science-achievement tests and highest overall in the world in science." (Maier 2001) The director of this school's physical education program can testify that "Daily physical education certainly was a positive factor. Brain researchers say physical activity is fertilization for the brain." (Maier 2001) Both short-term and long-term benefits of exercise have been found, such as those reported by the American Heart Association in their Statement.

Active persons are more likely to be better adjusted, to perform better on tests of cognitive functioning, to exhibit reduced cardiovascular responses to stress, and to report fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression... Exercise training reduces depression... Exercise also improves self-confidence and self-esteem, attenuates cardiovascular and neurohumoral responses to mental stress, and reduces some type A behaviors." (Balady et al. 1996)

Of course, proper physical activity is also linked to the prevention of cardiovascular disease, joint flexibility, blood lipid abnormalities, and other diseases, which can be distractions from academic efforts. "Increased physical activity has been associated with an increased life expectancy [and] produces overall physical, psychological and social benefits." (AHA 2004)

Experts at the American Heart Association recommend that children and teenagers have at least 60 minutes of physical activity that is at least moderate daily (AHA 2004), while the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) suggests that elementary school students need 150 minutes of weekly physical activity and older students need at least 225 minutes of physical activity per week. (Sweeney 2001) By either suggestion, students need sustained physical activity. "Beginning at school age, the clinician should advise the child to engage in regular physical activity and limit passive activity, such as viewing television and playing video games," (AAFP 1994) and at least 60 minutes of the suggested weekly physical activity should be in the form of vigorous activity such as that which can be achieved during a physical education class. Other important physical activity recommendations for the health and safety of children are that the activity should be enjoyable so they are not discouraged from continuing the activity; activities taught should include ones that can continue into adulthood (such as swimming or bicycling); activities should be easily incorporated into daily routine year-round including the winter months; proper safety equipment and precautions should always be taken; and even children with health conditions or disabilities should be encouraged to participate in physical activity. (AAFP 1994)

All of these recommendations can be fulfilled through a positive physical education program.

Physical education in the school is perhaps one of the most effective strategies to improve "exercise initiation and adherence" that is vital to reaping the benefits of continued physical activity. (Balady et al. 1996) The American Heart Association reports that parents should be acting as good role models to teach their children healthy physical activity habits (AHA 2004), but statistics show that parents are not always leading a good example. "Children must be introduced to the principles of regular physical exercise and recreational activities at an early age. Schools at all levels must develop and encourage positive attitudes toward physical exercise, providing opportunities to learn physical skills and perform physical activities..." (Balady et al. 1996) School programs should ensure that students of all skill levels are included. Many physical education classes today incorporate a wide range of physical activities that were absent from gym classes of decades past. "P.E. classes used to emphasize only team sports with limited lifetime applications because children often stopped engaging in sports once they reached 18. The new method stresses physical conditioning, movement, body awareness, hand-and-motion skills, teamwork, sportsmanship and the confidence to try new activities, as well as competitive sports." (Maier 2001)

In order for physical education classes to reach the highest potential possible for benefiting children for a lifetime, they should be taught by physical education specialists and provided with sufficient equipment, facilities, and time. (Sweeney 2001) Many physical education programs are in danger. "Schools across the country are decreasing class time, money and resources....slashing and terminating physical-education programs with the claim that students should spend that extra time on improving their standardized-test scores....At least 29% of schoolchildren do not attend gym classes...." (Maier 2001) In order for the next generations to be healthy and long-lived, they must become physically fit as well as academically fit.


AHA (2004). American Heart Association: Exercise (Physical Activity) and Children. Retrieved October 31, 2004, at http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4596

American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). (1994, November 1). Physical activity in children - U.S. Public Health Service. American Family Physician.

Balady, G., Blair, S.N., Blumenthal, J, Caspersen, C., Chaitman, B., Epstein, S., Fletcher, G., Froelicher, S & V, Pina, I.L., Pollock, M.L., & Sivarjan, E.S. (1996) Statement on Exercise: Benefits and Recommendations for Physical Activity Programs for All Americans: A Statement for Health Professionals by the Committee on Exercise and Cardiac Rehabilitation of the Council on Clinical Cardiology, American Heart Association. Circulation, 94: 857-862. Retrieved October 31, 2004, at http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/full/94/4/857

BUPA. (2004, February). Avoiding childhood obesity. Health information factsheet. Retreived October 31, 2004, at http://hcd2.bupa.co.uk/fact_sheets/html/child_obesity.html

Maier, T.W. (2001, August 27). Schools Giving P.E. Short Shrift - physical education. Insight on the News.

PCPFS. (2004). The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports:… [END OF PREVIEW]

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