So all of us couch potatoes just watched another Super Bowl, laughed at some commercials, ate too much, and if you are like me, you were impressed with the physical agility of the players. That fitness didn’t come over night and often it starts with the lessons they learn in school during gym class at some elementary school. Following that it took years of personal dedication, family support, and instruction from a variety of coaches. With today’s increased educational standards, the value of gym class in the ‘total’ education of our children is often overlooked.
In addition to the increased standards, Physical Education classes have come under fire of late as cash-strapped schools scramble for ways to save money. Most often the first area cut is the Physical Education or the Arts department. This despite the obesity epidemic in North America and the fact that most everyone knows gym class is a great way to get kids moving and promote a healthy, active lifestyle. However, some schools simple cannot afford the teachers or the facilities it takes to run a successful physical education program. This despite the numerous government sponsored and scientific studies conducted to ascertain the value of gym class and which suggest that it’s far more important than we think. Studies of ‘play deprivation’ show that without some daily play and physical activity that the healthy learning and development of a child is hindered and stunted.
A number of studies were conducted on school children of all ages. One of the most interesting recent studies involved 138 students in Rome, Italy aged 8 to 11 conducted by the University of Rome. The children were all healthy and none of them suffered from any known attention disorders, but like most children their age, they had trouble staying focused throughout the long school day. The study required the children to pick letters from a long string of symbols; a test recognized for its ability to ascertain concentration levels. The children wrote the tests before and after their gym classes.
Researchers found that the children’s test scores improved dramatically after their 50-minute gym classes. Their scores improved more the more they had physical activity. Endurance classes where the children were just moving, rather than thinking like they would when playing ball sports, were the most effective in improving their concentration. The findings of the various studies show a remarkable improvement in a student’s ability to concentrate right after exercising. This means that gym classes are not lost school hours, but are a valuable tool in getting students to learn.
It’s not just gym class where these discoveries can be put to good use. We can also encourage students to walk, run or hit the gym when they are studying for exams. Getting your child moving means that they can take a break from their studies and recharge with some fresh air, play and exercise. Don’t let your kids sit in front of their desks for hours; this will see the rule of diminishing returns take effect as they learn less and less for every hour that they study.
If you are studying, try to schedule regular breaks where you can move around. Play a game, go for a run or a walk or get to the gym to give yourself a break. If you find yourself having to read the same passage over and over again, then it’s time for a break. If the weather outside is not conducive to outdoor activity, do some yoga in the living room or dance to your favorite song. Moving will definitely help you to concentrate.
In the next part of this series of posts we’ll look a bit more at the benefits of Physical Activity, Gym class and play. Till then get out and take a walk. It will help you get rid of a few of the chips and wings from yesterday!