Do P.E. Classes Really Matter?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger

As funding is cut and schools face pressure to meet more rigorous testing standards, physical education classes are often the first thing to go. Many argue that the lack of P.E. is one reason for the increasing rate of childhood obesity. But are P.E. classes as important as you'd think when it comes to the health of our children? A new study says no.

The study compared children (ages 7-11) from 3 schools in the U.K. The amount of time they spent in P.E. per week ranged from a high of 9.2 hours to a low of 1.7 hours. Researchers found that no matter how much P.E. they got during school hours, by the end of the day the children had moved around about the same amount, at the same intensity. (Children wore devices to measure their physical activity (and the intensity of that activity) all day for 4 weeks as part of the study.)

It seems that the kids who got a lot of activity during the school day tended to do less when they got home from school. And the kids who did not get much activity at school made up for it by being active at home- riding bikes, playing sports, etc. Despite how much activity they got, the children still varied widely in health factors like cholesterol- but mainly because of their diets, not activity level. According to researchers in this study, "Children have an activity "set point"- an energy-expenditure baseline to which, over time, they will naturally revert." So some kids just tend to be more active than others.

Another study, also from the U.K., found that boys who did less activity were just as healthy as those who did more. Those researchers concluded that children should be encouraged to go out and play, but not be forced into traditional P.E. programs. Both of these studies support the idea that nutrition, not physical activity, is more important when it comes to the health of our children.

When I was in school, P.E. introduced me to a wide variety of activities (like gymnastics, archery and lacrosse) that I would not have been exposed to otherwise. That encouraged me to find activities that I did enjoy, and pursue those as both a child and an adult. Regardless of what these studies say, I think P.E. should remain a standard part of a child's education. They should learn that activity can be fun, and establish habits early on that they can continue for the rest of their lives.

What do you think? Should P.E. be an important part of a school's curriculum? Do you agree with these studies that conclude diet, not physical activity, is most important when it comes to the health of our children?

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  • 308
    Personally, I feel that P.E. is important and should remain in the curriculum. Like the previous poster mentioned there are many benefits to a good P.E. program. That being said, I don't think one can out exercise a bad diet. So, nutrition is important and cannot be overlooked. - 3/26/2015   8:21:41 PM
  • 307
    I believe that PE should be kept in the schools. Children need to learn teamwork, getting along with others, working together. When I was in school we had swings, and jungle gyms and kick ball... Everyone was included. There was no bullying, no one stood on the side and didn't participate. There was always something for everyone.. - 3/26/2015   11:10:45 AM
  • PSHAW46
    I believe PE is very important. Our children today are much less active (video games and tv watching are not too physical). We need to keep our children moving! - 10/9/2012   9:44:01 PM
    I am a Family and Consumer Science Teacher. Our subject area used to be called Home Ec. We get a lot of grief from people supposing that the classes we teach are not important, which is incredibly sad. One class that we teach (high school) is called Fitness and Living. It is co-taught with a PE teacher, and we teach the students exercise principles, participate in fitness activities, AND we learn about nutrition, healthy eating, and making positive health choices. We have a lab once a week where we make a healthy recipe which also gives the students skills and confidence in the kitchen which translates to their preparedness to cook healthy meals for themselves, rather than eating out. Many of the comments in this blog have been about the need to combine the elements of exercise AND nutrition... to all of you parents concerned about this element of education for your children... you should go to your principals, and also your school boards, and ASK for classes such as this one. It is needed, and is a fabulous opportunity for our students! - 7/11/2012   8:50:57 AM
  • 304
    True believer in PE classes, as long as you have good gym teachers teaching them; unfortunately all of that is going downt the drain, what with all the school budget cuts we hear about anymore. - 6/20/2012   10:00:32 AM
  • 303
    I would like to see a US study - because I don't think US kids are more active when they come home - it's tv and video games and I don't know that the behavior of youth in the UK is the same. - 6/20/2012   9:29:00 AM
  • 302
    PE is an important part of children's development & I do think as a mother of 2 teenagers that it should be part of the school curriculum. I also think it needs some updating to teach skills that they can carry through their life like yoga - 4/20/2012   5:34:16 PM
  • 301
    To be honest, I hated gym. HATED. The kids that were in after school sports were coddled and the rest of us were pretty much invisible. We weren't taught to warm up or cool down, we weren't prepared for the fitness tests they gave every six weeks. They just said, "We're playing this game today, you guys are this colour team, and the rest in this colour team." And if you failed your fitness test because you couldn't run fast enough or hold a pullup or do enough pushups, well that was your problem and not theirs. Maybe if they educated the students and taught them to properly exercise it wouldn't be so bad. Health class didn't even really cover healthy eating. It was all about staying away from drugs and being abstinent. Just. UGH. - 4/6/2012   5:13:54 PM
  • 300
    When I was a kid, we had both P. E. and recess. Nowadays, kids have neither. I enjoyed P. E. for the most part, even though I'm not especially athletically inclined.

    Today, kids don't really get out and play we used to. They'd rather watch television or play video games. I know the only exercise my son really got was in gym class and at recess (when they had it).

    I agree with some of the other posters, at the very least, P. E. and/or recess allow children to burn off some energy that would otherwise be channeled in other...usually less desirable...activities. - 3/30/2012   8:26:11 AM
  • 299
    I am not sure if this will make sense but here it goes. As a substitute teacher I found that when in the younger grades where recess or p.e. was offered the children did better. They actually seemed to have the energy to go the course where as the older gets who had schedule of class to class and no time to exercise even a little seemed drained and uncooperative. - 3/27/2012   10:34:48 AM
  • 298
    I think I was more active in school because I did have P.E., but I didn't enjoy P.E. classes at all. I had a lot of negative experiences in P.E. from being teased, and not being very good at things. It almost became something that I had to overcome. I have been surprised that I can enjoy physical activity. My most natural activities are walking and running. I have enjoyed some of the SparkPeople challenges, and I have enjoyed trying some DVDs. I do have some troubles staying committed to fitness activities. I get bored and restless with them.

    I did really enjoy recess when I was younger. I loved jumping rope, playing tetherball or 4-square, hopscotch. I also enjoyed bike riding and hiking when I was not in school. - 3/11/2012   12:57:50 AM
    Thats very true - 2/8/2012   4:55:58 PM
  • 296
    I was an active kid, I did trampolining and gymnastics. And I hated PE. The teachers had favourites, anyone who didn't make it on to one of the teams for after school competitive sports just didn't feature on their agendas. As a result my fitness suffered. My self confidence fell and I felt bullied by the staff. I performed worst in running - track and cross country. Winter sport was hell for me, yet now I run by choice, if one of the teachers had taken a step back and thought ok so some of these kids aren't natural born athletes and set a running program like the one minute run one walk, that I used to get started, I wonder if I would have caught the running bug years earlier...

    That said, I think getting rid of PE in schools is a HUGE mistake. Our kids need a little bit of enforced activity. Sometimes a little of what we don't like is good for us. But maybe there is a way of tiering the classes, so all the 'sporty-kids' can complete with each other and those who needs more assistance can get it without feeling like they are holding the rest of the class back? Thanks - 1/22/2012   2:28:59 AM
    Yes! Yes! & Yes! they matter-kids need time to get out & let off steam-the one change I
    would make for older students is to give them choices-for example they could to work
    out in the gym or do team sports. - 10/21/2011   6:14:59 AM
  • 294
    I believe phys.ed. should be maintained in schools. Sports are a way to develop many skills in youth that may carry on in other areas of our lives as adults. In some cases, these classes can be the only place a child is exposed to physical activities. Sedentary lifestyles are the norm in our days, let's keep plenty of time for kids to be active and play. - 9/26/2011   8:06:00 PM
  • 293
    PE was the bane of my youth--I was constantly getting injuries in PE that interfered with my competitive dancing and competitive soccer. It was an exercise in humiliation for most kids who weren't fond of particular sports. I think a parent can introduce opportunities for a child to get into better than a school program, which, at my school, never included fun things like lacrosse and archery.

    While I applaud the efforts of schools to force students into being more active, PE seems to be ineffective (at least in high school you are given the option of doing independent study PE to allow your sports to count for credit). - 8/30/2011   11:08:34 AM
  • 292
    It's definitely the best way to expose kids to different sports. As far as exercise, not so much. Those who are inclined to move, will, and those who aren't, won't. The only way PE is going to ensure exercise, is if they start off with 15 minutes of calisthenics. Which was never the case when I was in school. - 8/23/2011   2:33:35 PM
    Elementary school P.E. was a joke and seemed to be a calculated forum to torture the unpopular and unathletic. I remember the goal of the pitcher was to hit you, not to throw balls to be hit or strike you out.

    Perhaps if P.E. actually taught fitness skills, especially to the less adept it would be beneficial. - 8/10/2011   5:25:06 AM
  • 290
    If P.E. classes taught actual exercise practices (proper weight lifting form and cardio) and tracked the child's improvements....I would say P.E. is important.

    The P.E. classes my step son took did not do so. Personally, I think funding these classes is a terrible waste of taxpayer's funds.

    It is up to the PARENTS not the school system to make sure their children develop healthy habits....including diet and exercise.

    - 7/20/2011   11:22:42 AM
  • 289
    As an educator, I can say first hand that PE is important. I have some students that only get physical activity during their designated PE time. At recess, they may just stand around & talk with friends & when they get home, sit on the couch watching TV or playing on the computer or some game system. I teach 5th grade & had a student who was already diagnosed with diabetes bc of her weight & food choices. From what she told me, she also still got junk to eat at home (plus she brought me candy almost every other day). I remember PE being a fun time, most of the time, but I realize there are horror stories from others. Weighing in front of everyone, etc. & of course, would never say THAT was okay, or any other behavior by teachers that made students feel inferior to others, but I still believe overall, that PE should stay in the curriculum. I also know that the teacher at my school doesn't base the kids' grades on whether they're healthy or not, although they get a print out of where they're at for different physical tests they do, but based on their effort & participation in class.
    KEEP PE IN SCHOOLS!!! - 6/23/2011   9:57:41 PM
  • __IZZA__
    It should obviously still be part of the curriculum. You get to try different kind of sports and it's easier to play sports that require more people than on your spare time.

    Furthermore, when I went to school from when I was 11- 13 we did a test each year on how many push ups, crunches, jumps, and back exercises you could do in a minute. When I couldn't do any push ups my teacher told me to go home and train push ups. A few months later I tried again at doing push ups in front of my teacher and that time I could do 25. Also, for those who were very unfit there was an extra day that you had to run sometimes to try and become fitter.

    Finally, your brain gets quite tired class after class and it's very nice to have some time when you run around. It makes it easier to concentrate afterwards. - 6/22/2011   6:26:06 AM
    I loved P.E at school - 5/30/2011   1:51:26 PM
  • 286
    PE is very important in the schools, my 7 year old with ADHD would not make it through the day with out that extra play time. Plus he learns about things like the food pyramid, regular exercise and why its important for their bodies. Not to mention it teaches teamwork, sportsmanship, and other fundamental skills. I also think its important because a lot of families cant afford to put their kids in sports programs, and other programs that let kids play team games. - 5/26/2011   2:01:36 PM
  • 285
    PE is important in schools. It helps kids get out and relax their brain from all the work they have to do while in school - 4/21/2011   3:52:58 PM
  • RUSSELL_40
    The real problem is that a child can do as much activity in math class as in P.E. class... without P.E. they still do as much activity.

    I remember when I was in P.E.... we ran 3 miles every Friday.. and had to be less than 30 minutes... by years end we had to complete a 8 minute mile or we me..we were more active than in math class.. and it helped us lose weight.. and a more informal setting for interaction.. I met my best friend in high school.. first day of gym class.. so it is important to keep gym.. just up the intensity!! - 3/8/2011   10:16:56 AM
  • 283
    I think PE definatly needs to stay in the curriculum. They aren't just learning sports. When my son's PE teacher was able to be with his class, they were learning health at the same time. They were learning about their muscles and how they work. They were also learning nutrition. This year they don't have this teacher, they just have PE with their regular teacher. He isn't coming home and sharing what he learned anymore. It's more of a chore now than when they actual PE teacher was in charge. - 2/24/2011   3:15:20 PM
  • 282 first of all our country (children and adults) is experiencing an extremely high rate of obesity and thus, other health issues. I work in the schools and I see that physical education is very important to keep in the curriculum. I agree that activity alone will not improve one's health; however, it is a vital part of it.

    Our schools need to serve the children healthy meals for those who are not bringing a lunch from home (and, breakfast for students who are eating breakfast at school too). While the cafeterias are offering healthy meal options, our kids will not choose them when there is pizza, chicken nuggets, french fries, etc are there. And, the healthy options are usually not the first ones our kids are seeing when they enter the cafeteria line.

    Ultimately, healthy living starts at home. But, since our kids are spending a lot of their weekdays at school, they need to join forces with parents to support healthy living. How about having one day a week that pizza or whatever is offered and only having healthy options throughout the rest of the week???

    I also feel that P.E. classes provide our children with exposure to various activities, help them develop team work and proper social skills, and provide them with education relating to their bodies and health. Keep it in the curriculum...and, if possible, provide it more often!!! - 2/2/2011   2:22:59 PM
  • 281
    P.E. is not only for gettig the exercise children need, it also gives them the opportunity to work out personal relationships and social heiarchies. Interaction among peers starting at an early age helps children when they become adults and have to interact in the adult world. It also helps parents and doctors monitor children's health because if a child is doing poorly in P.E., it could be a medical issue. P.E. also teaches children how to be responsible about their bodies. P.E. is one class that should never be cut. - 1/25/2011   2:43:31 PM
  • 280
    for many students, PE is the only regular exercise they get, many just walk around at recess and that is an opton ony in hte young grades. so yes, PE is veryo important. Have you ever seen a fat PE teacher? I would not hire one. - 12/28/2010   8:54:06 AM
  • 279
    I think PE is important to help keep kids active. My kids love PE, but I think schools should keep it in perspective. It should be graded on participation and effort, not skill level. Not all of us are blessed with athletic ability. It also should be fun, not torture for the kids. I had some PE teachers that made me hate PE. In seventh grade, we were doing gymnastics on full size equipment. Kids train for years before working on a balance beam 4 feet off the floor and we were on it from the start in my class. Very scary! Keep it fun and expose the kids to a variety of sports! - 12/8/2010   10:02:13 AM
  • 278
    whether or not it is important, i can tell you this. How many of us finished high school and gained weight because of lack of physical activity? I know I did. My kids are very active and I think Physical activity is important even if they don't have it in school. They should def. get it at home. - 11/3/2010   9:00:05 AM
    PE is a very important part of my kids school life and they enjoy it. The reason I think it is important is because the kids have very little free time at school. Their lessons are long without much break between them other than to move to a new class and a short lunch. I grew up in South Africa and our school lessons were shorter. School started at 7:45 and we would have 2 - 2hour lessons and then a 30 minute break where we would go outside with our lunch box which we brought from home. We would eat on the playground and then run around and play. In high school we sat and chatted in the sunshine or shade as preferred. Then it was back into class for another 2 - 2hour lessons and another break for 20 minutes in the sunshine. On rainy days we played games in the class rooms or just sat and chatted. Then we came back inside for another hour of lessons. Having those two breaks were wonderful because we had a chance to socialise and learn those valuable social skills. It also reduced the boredom of listening to a teacher go on and on endlessly. It gave you a chance to get the wigglies out so that when you came back into class you were rested enough to focus and work hard. There were less problems with kids causing trouble in class and school was a whole lot more fun. Since our kids here don't get these breaks, PE is an opportunity to break up the monotony of being expected stay focused and on point without a break. - 10/19/2010   4:10:00 PM
  • 276
    I agree, PhysEd should continue to be apart of the school curricullum. If a student is not active in sports, they definately need physEd. - 10/15/2010   6:25:43 PM
  • 275
    I honestly think PE is more important now than it was for American children: I would REALLY like to know whether (and if so how many) of the kids in the British study were living in places without playgrounds, or whether they had video games at home. I don't demonize video games--I grew up playing them, and I still like to relax with one a few hours a week--but I had parks and playgrounds and parents who shooed me outside to run around. My brothers didn't have that--in part because where we lived for most of their childhood didn't have parks and playgrounds--and they developed weight problems MUCH, MUCH younger than I did. If not for PE, they wouldn't have gotten any fitness time at all. - 9/21/2010   10:33:30 AM
  • 274
    Yes PE is good for students for confidence and balance and great for your body..

    I am glad I had PE
    - 9/19/2010   6:06:11 PM
    I think PE should still be required, but it needs to be changed. I don't have any real horrific memories about PE, other than really, really hating the presidential fitness award crap (sit ups.. UGgggh).
    I was fortunate enough to be made to go to Catholic School (believe me, I wasn't thrilled when this happened in the first place. I went to public school 1st thru 5th, and then catholic for part of 5th till the end) and part of the reason why I say fortunate enough is because they didn't have these gigantic sports centers the public schools did. I did not have to worry about swimming in school because we had no pool. Also, my school did not require us to shower after gym class. Might sound gross to some people, but there's no one who really enjoys a communal shower while going thru puberty. I understand they were trying to teach personal hygiene, but I can't say anyone was lacking THAT much in that department. I know my public school friends were NOT happy about showering together. My high school separated the girls from the boys for gym class, too. I know I was thankful for that!
    Granted, I didn't love PE, but I didn't hate it. We usually had fun and our teacher was pretty laid back. She'd let us choose some of the stuff we got to do - like strength training...or if we were doing aerobics, she'd be laughing along with us as we attempted to do the Paula Abdul aerobic workout (I am pretty sure Paula wore heels)... We played a game that was called "Pillow Polo" which we re-named "Tampon Ball" because the polo sticks looked like tampons. It was ridiculous amounts of fun and we loved playing it. I bet if we got told we couldn't call it Tampon Ball..that we would have not been as enthusiastic. Our teacher never, ever called it Tampon Ball, but got a good laugh out of the name change anyway. I think if you have a good teacher, PE can be great. If I had, had the gym teacher the boys had...I'd have a completely different opinion. That man was a former marine and was insane....The boys had to do all this crazy stuff that we did not. There was no fun in his gym class. The boys got yelled at and had to do extra if they didn't do enough. That is not how gym class should be.
    - 9/19/2010   5:17:37 PM
    I think I'm probably the only person who is going to say PE shouldn't be required. As a child, I was very skinny. I used to wear layers of clothes for some bulk. At PE, I would wear so many layers that I nearly passed out on several occasions. In high school, I learned the art of faking notes. Anything to get out of PE. Yes, I think kids should be active but to embarrass a child by making them strip down to almost nothing when they have a body image problem is cruelty to the max in my opinion. I know I'll get a lot of responses but remember, I'm talking about a 5' 6" girl who barely hit 90lbs. - 9/18/2010   12:09:01 PM
  • 271
    PE should be mandatory! Our kids need to get out of their seats and MOVE! Too many youngsters are overweight and that is not healthy. We went to PE and still alive to tell about it - I thought it wAS FUN. GO for it kids! - 9/17/2010   7:23:46 PM
  • 270
    PE is very import, in my opinion it is a way to release stress after having to read, write and do math in the classroom all day. - 8/24/2010   8:21:16 PM
  • 269
    PE could be the only time all day that some of the children move! Besides, learning and playing games, it teaches competition, good sportmanship, and teamwork, to name a few. - 8/6/2010   8:54:16 AM
  • 268
    PE should be required in school. When PE was part of school children were more active and physically fit. And most importantly parents need to make their children turn off the video games and TV, go outside, run and play. - 8/6/2010   8:29:00 AM
  • 267
    I start college in the fall and I'm really excited about the phys. ed. choices the school has. I've chosen a class in combative arts and another in archery. In addition the their classes there's a wellness center with medical professional to monitor your weight, b/p and blood sugar, and a fitness center with state of the art cardio and strengthening equipment, cardio classes and boot camps. I hated phys.ed. from elem to HS but I'm really looking forward to it now. I think P.E. is important to our children because it effects their mental and physical well being. I saw a mother buying misses size 16s for her 12 yr old daughter. An active lifestyle and better eating habit would change that. - 7/21/2010   3:50:38 PM
  • APPLE25
    I love how PE classes have changed since I was a little girl. Back when I was in grade school, gym was all about picking sides (I was last) and taking turns playing traditional sports - basketball, soccer, baseball.

    Now, I see kids playing with parachutes, skipping, running to music - and teachers love to encourage everyone to have fun. I think it should absolutely be continued in our schools. There should be a huge focus on everyday fitness - and I think what our cafeterias serve needs to be addressed too!!!

    It our schools that expose kids to different activties and ideas - for many kids, if they don't experience it at school they won't experience it at all. So, bring it on!! (But in a fun and positive way, of course!) - 7/21/2010   11:11:33 AM
  • 265
    Archery, cross-country skiing, lacrosse? I've never lived in a town where schools had that kind of selection. My memories of PE are standing around on the sidelines while the kids who were good at sports played. I also remember being miserably sweaty for the rest of the day after running up and down the bleachers. I think extra recess time would be more beneficial if you want kids to move around. - 7/21/2010   10:30:02 AM
    Frankly, I think that PE should be elective only. In my experience and also what I see my own kids going through, PE specializes is pounding square pegs into round holes. I remember my own experience with "shirts" and "skins". when you are an obese child, this is traumatizing. I hated exercise for years because of my obesity or clumsiness being put on display in PE class. In class, everyone is expected to work to the same level and if you dont, you stand out. The last thing you want is kids dreading exercise and sports. - 7/20/2010   4:28:48 PM
  • 263
    I believe that both PE and sufficient recess time each day is important for all kids, but especially for k-8. It should be modified and adjusted to remain age-appropriate (and useful) as kids get older. My daughters are 6 and 8.5 and have PE each day, along with two decent length recesses each day - it was in part on this that we chose their school. Theirs is a public school in Seattle - which in itself is pretty fitness oriented as a city - and their PE teacher is wonderful. He creates a fun, varied and rounded class curriculum for all kids. They get to run, do team sports, do individual sports, bike, scooter, roller blade, climb and play all sorts of field games. He is flexible and cares to make it a good experience for each kid without being condescending or using too much empty praise. And having the girls move throughout the day and expend enough energy outside certainly makes for easier and quieter homework and dinner time. - 7/20/2010   3:53:28 PM
  • 262
    I'm a homeschool mom and physical activity is an integral part of our lives. We are members of the Y, we use the elliptical, the treadmill, the weights and the pool. In addition we have a park day with our homeschool group once a week for the whole afternoon. My girls play soccer on the local rec league as well. - 7/9/2010   4:32:20 PM
    Satinswan, you're absolutely right. Most people I know have the same terrible memories of PE classes, and unfortunately this is still going on in schools today. I think PE needs to be revamped to teach kids skills and habits that they can use for the rest of their lives. They should learn that fitness is fun, not a hateful ordeal. Kids are naturally active, they love learning new things and they want to succeed - I can see that in my karate club on a daily basis. Schools seem to concentrate on track and field and gymnastics. That's fine for some kids, but there are so many more things that they could do. - 6/30/2010   10:22:09 PM
  • 260
    I think PE as a way to introduce new activities and learn how the body works is important. Sports (except basketball and football) and games and weights were my favorite parts of class.

    However, children are not little troopers in boot camp, nor are they body builders and models who need to do intensive workouts. PE as a way to torture kids with interminably long runs, zillions of pushups, humiliations in the locker room, and their inability to climb a rope (how many of us do that as adults? Firefighters and military folks. The rest... not so much) should go by the way side. This side of PE is what seems to be the universal memory. I know I experienced it in two different school districts with four different gym teachers. Out of six gym teachers that I had while in school. That's 2/3rds. And the districts were half a state away from each other.

    PE classes killed any desire I had to exercise or participate in sports until I was well into my twenties and hadn't seen the inside of a gym for a decade. I was always glad my high school only required one semester of gym to graduate, and that by the time I took it, we had a very cool gym teacher. Even so, it was not a favorite part of the day.

    If schools want children to be more active, perhaps they should re-incorporate recess into their days. When I was in grade school, we had morning recess for 15 minutes, after lunch for 10-15 minutes, and afternoon recess for 15-20 minutes. We played games, jumped rope, and generally ran ourselves silly, and got some downtime from classwork.

    When I went to middle school, recess was five or ten minutes on the patio outside after lunch, depending on how quickly you finished eating. By high school, bye-bye outdoors unless you were an outdoor-sports athlete or doing PE on the track. And PE couldn't make up for any of that because it simply was not as enjoyable as running willy-nilly around a playground. - 6/25/2010   4:45:21 PM
  • 259
    I think PE is still important in schools. - 6/25/2010   12:19:20 PM

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