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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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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. Report
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. Report
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. Report
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. Report
I think PE is still important in schools. Report
PE was a nightmare for me. I had what was almost a hidden disability - incredibly bad depth perception (and bad vision), so many of the activities in PE were just embarrassing or resulted in accidents. I was active outside school (swimming, bicycling, horseback riding, hiking, even figure skating - also bad for those with no depth perception) so I didn't need the activity. The mandatory sports we had to do in PE just drove me away from organized sports. Report
In my personal experience, P.E. was extremely useful to helping me manage my weight as a teenager. I took P.E. my junior year of HS, but took an extra Honors class instead of PE my senior year. All of my other food intake and activity levels stayed the same, and I put on approximately 20lbs. during my senior year. As an adult coming back to fitness now (I graduated high school 8 years ago) I am shocked at how much my fitness level has dropped. In P.E. we used to run a lap (a 1/4 mile), did 10 (not modified) push-ups , 30 sit-ups, and 20 jumping jacks every day for a warm-up before whatever activity we were doing that day. Now, I can do maybe 3 full push-ups before dropping to my knees, jumping jacks totally leave me winded, and I'm just now able to run a 1/4 mile without stopping- after building up to it for several weeks! I didn't always enjoy P.E. as a student, but my anecdotal experience tells me that it is crucial to keeping kids fit and staving off childhood obesity. Report
P.E. is an important part of the education model. Kids need to learn that physical activity can be fun & P.E. is where it's taught. As for going home & being more lethargic it's a parents responsibility to get kids up & active, enroll them in an after school program at a local recreation center. Sports & physical activities foster social skills, self confidence & some suggest better grades. Responsibility should always start at home, however P.E. will strengthen the foundation & should not be cut from schools. Report
"They should learn that activity can be fun, and establish habits early on that they can continue for the rest of their lives."

Or .... they can, as I did, learn that P.E. classes are where the strong prey on the weak and have a lifetime of overcoming antipathy to competitive sports or anything that would be considered "active."

I hated PE. It was horrifying when we had to weigh in front of everyone. The gym teacher even LAUGHED at me one time. There was nothing about achieving your personal best... it was all about passing the stupid tests they gave you that certified you healthy or not healthy. Needless to say, I was not healthy. Report
I don't think P.E. should be required. I found it to be a total "joke" in school. I do not know one person who felt they got a real benefit from gym class. I totally loathed gym. I completely agree with ALIH5308. Report
P.E. is important - I like that it introduces a variety of fitness activities for the sake of having fun while moving around. One daughter dislikes some of the activities they do for P.E., though she loves to be active and is involved in sports almost daily. She has learned to make the best of the situation and still give it her all because attitude is important (and there are just situations in life where you smile and do your best even if you can't stand it). My other daughter sees it all as play, no matter what the activity for P.E. that day. She finds it helps her to be able to focus more in school because she's had the opportunity to refresh herself instead of sitting so long. Sports can be too competitive at a young age, so I'm glad that P.E. is offered so kids can still experience movement without having to "be number one" and hopefully they will embrace being active through all their years. Report
I think PE classes is a good idea to let the kids know the benefit of getting active and fit but need to make the classes fun rather than make it a boring subject. Pe can also introduced students to sports that they might interested to join or at least, they will know what to do (unlike me, I just ran through soccer and basketball without knowing the rules, haha). Pretty disappointed with myself as I didn't try much in PE activities. It didn't help when most of my classmates were slender girls, with not too much jiggling fat at top and bottom. Report
For some kids, like mine, it is very important. Both my kids are high energy and I believe that being able to blow off some steam really helps them to be more attentive in the classroom. Kids can't be expected to sit in a classroom for 9+ hours and stay focused. They need the time to socialize, compete, and just burn some good old fashioned calories. Report
I was never as active as I should have been when I was a kid. So when it came to required P.E. classes in school, I'd always try my best to avoid them. However, when I started attending P.E. classes in middle and high school, I was introduced to different sports like hockey and wrestling and to my surprise, I was actually good at these sports! That's why I agree with many of your opinions that P.E. should remain an important part of our children's education! Without P.E., I would have remained a sedentary child and would have never been able to gain the confidence and self-esteem that came with mastering these sports. Report
I believe PE is a very important part of the school day! The physical benefits are obvious - you've got to move to stay fit. But, the mental benefits are huge, as well. Kids who get regular exercise sleep better and are mentally ready for learning. I believe regular exercise also helps them with their emotions and abilities to concentrate. Not every kids loves PE, but every kid can love part of it if there is a good variety of activities. Report
PE programs have taken a real hit since I was in school (beginning in the Kennedy years). I know that many programs have real problems. But I have to say that the answer is not to discontinue them. It may take some creative planning, but in this age of computer games and online chatting we can't afford to give up on PE. The health and future of our children is too important. Report
PE as I had it was a terrible experience. The teacher never actually taught us anything. People that were poor athletes were left out. Gave me a bad attitude about exercise and sports. My kids have enjoyed PE, however. At their schools, PE teachers actually spend time teaching the kids how to use exercise equipment, in addition to the team sports. Report
When I was in high school PE consisted of running around the track for 45 minutes, or walking slowly depending on the mood. We would also just do the basics of push ups or pull ups, whatever was needed to pass the tests.

The high school I work at has an amazing PE program. The class consists of physical activity which is sports or dance related along with health/nutrition classes.

I also think its a false assumption that kids will be active all on their own. Look at how many kids are plopped in front of a tv all day, or playing video games. Report
I definitely think P.E. should be a part of a school day. For one it gets the child out of the classroom chair and moving. I loved P.E. when I was in school... I was more athletic so I enjoyed the games.. the new things we did. I think it was more than teaching a sport. Those sports promoted team work and other social skills needed as well. Report
As a teacher, I think that students need to be exposed to a wide variety of subjects, so I would never advocate cutting any programs. I do think that PE is important, but agree that nutrition education, which is nearly absent in the elementary school, is also a major proponent of fitness management.

In Texas, elementary students are required to have a certain amount of PE minutes each week, which sometimes comes at the cost of other non core subjects, like art, music, or computers, and I'm not sure that's the right thing to do. Report
Yes, P.E. is very important in school. This was one of my favorite class. I had fun in P.E. When I was in the 12th grade P. E. was optional though. The class taught me about bowling and tennis. Dieting alone is not good, you also need to keep your body fit by exercising. Report
P.E needs to be around because it is a good option.

I grew up in not so good neighborhoods when I was a teen in Minnesota and you can't go to many parks after the street lights come on because the drunks, druggies and homeless people start entering the parks and it isn't where kids should be playing any longer. When you are poor you get two games, Sticks and stones and you likely got a hula hoop jump rope and basketball but in PE you learned different games and found other stuff you enjoyed. When you are an adult you are not likely to go play jump rope and hula hoop but if you learned how to golf that is something that burns calories, gets you active outdoors and you can enjoy when in retirement!

Some kids live in neighborhoods where you even want them playing outside and then what are they supposed to do.
I am happy that I now live in Wisconsin in a small town where my daughter and I can go to the park for 3-4 hours everyday and run around or sit in the shade and just enjoy the good weather and her wanting to be outside has rubbed off on me and made me wish I'd been able to more of the same when I was a kid. Report
I think that PE should still be included in schools. But not because of weight issues. Kids need PE to be active. It clears the mind, and allows them to concentrate more when in class. As my oldest has advanced in grades the last few years, PE and recess have greatly decreased. She is a very active child, and requires time to get up and move; whether it is outdoors or in a school gym. And I notice that when she is cooped up for long periods of time, she finds it harder to concentrate, follow house rules, and directions.

I will admit that we do have a obesity issue with our children (and adults) in the United States. However, if the studies show that PE does not provide more intense activity, then I do not feel that is a sufficient reason for keeping it. We as a country need to look at the other benefits that PE provides to our children before we just remove it completely. In addition to this, we need to look more into how to incorporate healthy eating habits in our society (including schools) so we can teach our children how to eat the right way. Exercise is great, but it is only part of the solution. Report
What kind of message are we sending by excluding P.E. time?

Hello!! We need our kids growing up knowing that it's okay to take time for themselves and that physical activity is as important as work.

This is an OBESITY EPIDEMIC right now... what are we thinking not including P.E.?

I'd like to see a study address whether or not kids who had P.E. while young grew up to be more balanced workers in the future. Our educational and health care systems need to step up to the plate and set the bar for high standards on this issue... putting physical exercise as a priority. Report
I occasionally substitute teach and from what I see most of the children do not get enough movement throughout the day. P.E. is something that I see a lot of children look forward to. I believe that P.E. should be incorporated into the weekly class schedules 2 to 3 times per week, and recess time everyday.....children have very limited times to have play/exercise time during the day from what I see. Look at it, we all get tired of sitting in a chair for a good part of our day, we need to move around, use our muscles.....P.E. is an opportunity for children to learn new things, new ideas and have the opportunity to see where their interest may lie in areas of sports, etc. P.E. is a good thing, there should be encouragement not ridicule during these P.E. events....I am all for P.E. staying in the school system (granted while I was in highschool I lived in Florida, some of my friends and I if we could get away with it would sneak into the neighboring orange groves and eat oranges while the other students worked out playing games and such on the P.E. field)...but I did enjoy most of the sports that we did play.....children need exercise and free play ,this is a form of learning just as well, a lot of times the academic book learning is too forced, exercise is a good stress reliever as well to children that are sitting at their desk for a good part of their day. Report
Why couldn't they have done this when I was in school?!? PE Was a NIGHTMARE class for me. Teasing, ridicule, humiliation and misery on a daily basis, encouraged and precipitated by nearly every PE teacher I ever had. Honestly, I think most of them were just paid bullies who couldn't get a teaching degree any other way. It was so bad that my parents had to intervene when I was in grade school because the teacher was so aweful. I credit those experience largely with my hatred of exercise now. Maybe if it had been made fun I'd feel different, but when I think of going to a gym or trying to be active anywhere that other people might see me all those old hurts come floating back up and I usually quit because I don't want to go through that again.

I think the whole system needs to be overhauled with more of an emphasis on fun and fitness, less emphasis on competition which leads to bullying behavior and exclusion. I loved a story I saw about a school that was using some of the Wii dancing games to make classes fun. The kids loved it and were having fun and nobody was making fun of anyone else. It was awesome! Report
PE was one of my favorite classes, especially when I got to high school. We had the option of lifting weights in the weight room, so I would strength train in circuits for different parts of my body (upper, lower, upper, lower, cardio on fridays). I also liked playing a lot of the sports, though I was at a disadvantage compared to the guys, since I'm five-foot-nothing. I have always been fat, but in high school, my body was more fit (just with insulation over it), so I could totally keep up. One of my goals is to join an adult football league next year. Report
I think PE is good in school. My son is in kindergarten and he looks forward to PE. But my goal is show the importance of fitness by example at home. In my opinion that's even more important than a gym class at school. I also like the park district and Y team sports programs for teaching sportsmanship. Report
I am greatfull that my son's school requires P.E every day. They have even advanced some since I was in school. He can take on challanges like climbing the rock wall, or other challanging activity. The great thing about P.E is it teaches exercise and promotes a healthier living. Report
I agree with you Jen! PE is an extremely important factor in introducing activity to children. This would be a good change! Report
In my personal experience, I hated PE. It was required in my schools and I took it all the way through 9th grade. When I was young, I was active outside of school, doing gymnastics, cheer-leading, and softball. I was a very shy child though, and also matured faster than my peers so I was very self conscious about exercising and being made to do uncomfortable activities in front of others.

By the time I was in 9th grade, I was through with it. I didn't believe adults should be able to tell me what to do and when to do it as far as my activities were concerned. So, I skipped most PE classes or sat on the bench. From my experiences, no I don't think PE should be mandatory but an option is nice.

In health, they covered what was healthy activities and how to eat healthy and that's all I needed to know. I didn't need to be forced to do them while at school. Report
I definitely feel that PE should be required, and I think students should be required to take at least one full semester of it each year of school, all the way until they graduate. There are so many kids who wouldn't get exposed to these types of sports and activities if they weren't made to participate in PE...if it wasn't for PE, I never would've realized how much I love swimming! Report
I feel P.E. /Gym is important from the time they start school through highschool.

If they don't get this from school they might not be getting it from home either.

It is great physically and mentally. Plus fun and fit at the same time.

Elementary school they wear there school clothes. I think they should suit up and learn responsibility.

Keep it in the schools and make more opportunities for after school too.

They can build confidence and be more open and make friends too! Plus you know these kids and getting your own cheer team to keep up the good work. Is very positive!
I think it is important not only for the students physically, but mentally to have some exercise during the school day. However, I also think more emphasis should be placed on lifelong activities instead of competitive sports activities or at least students should be given some choices. Some students excel at team sports and have experiences being on a team. Children who have not had these experiences need to have skills taught to them before being asked to play the game with the experts. My special education students often avoided P.E. because they weren't good at sports and had to be on a team with students who were. It wasn't that they disliked shooting baskets, it's just that the kids from the basketball team dominated the court and made them feel stupid. Given the chance to just shoot around, they were happy to play basketball. Report
I grew up in Illinois, where PE is required for all students for all grades (K-12.). The only way to not be required to take PE at my high school was to be a member of an athletic team(s) because their coaches already required the students to perform at practices at least 3-5 days a week. While some of my PE teachers were incompetent, I had one that trully tried to instill the values of health in our class. Furthermore, she DID the exercises with us. None of this overweight PE teacher BS from her! :) Report
I think P.E. is an extremely important part of the curriculum for children of all ages. I feel that all students should be required to find one physical extracurricular activity as well, that is provided for by the school. Elementary through college. So many American children spend all of their after school hours in front of a television.

That said, I do think that we need to find better quality P.E. teachers than is the norm. I have some really good memories of P.E. at one school, with really bad memories at others. While I hated basketball, I adored soccer and kickball. Students need options other than "either play basketball or walk laps around the gym." I did 3 years of competative swim team in high school, as well as attempting one season of track (had to drop because of shin splints). I kept trying out for softball, although I never was good enough to make the team. But P.E. in high school & middle school was alot of walking/jogging laps, because the only other option was basketball. Report
I totally agree that PE should be part of the curricullum. The PE program at the school where I teach is amazing. the kids are excited about going to PE. The teacher teaches nutrition, has fun physical activities and then the students learn something new. I believe with tv, computer games as well as all the hand held devices, kids are not as active as I was when I was little. They don't walk to a friends house, they get a ride. They don't go outside and play, they sit inside and play. PE is so important to our children just like any other class. The statistics for obesity in children is so high, if PE classes are cut out, what will happen to the future? Report
I think PE should be required daily for about 30 minutes. As you say, it exposes you to different exercise options and experiences that take you into adulthood, such as archery, tennis, bowling, golf, soccer, football and more. These require equipment, facilities or just space that they may not have at home. Not to mention that PE teaches them the rules of the game. I grew up in a school without a football team and never attended a game as a child. I will probably never understand the nuances of the game. And this study was in the UK. How many kids in America play sports at home or even own bikes? My grandchildren come home, sit at the table doing homework and then sit in front of the TV. The only exercise they get is the walk to and from the bus stop about a block from their home. Report
Personally, I think that elementary school P.E. should most definitely be a requirement. Like you said, it exposes children to activities that they otherwise would not be exposed to, maybe even getting them interested in a lifelong hobby!! However, once middle school and high school roll around, P.E. should simply be an offered elective as opposed to a required part of education.

In my experience, I had to take way too many classes in high school to comfortably accommodate P.E., and therefore I just viewed it as a burden upon my potential to take other classes that would enhance my ability to make it into a good college, or just classes that I would rather take in general. So P.E. actually made me despise physical activity for a while, simply because I associated it with my lack of ability to expand my academic potential. The reason why I started liking to exercise was far from P.E.'s influence, which means that it was an absolutely useless part of my high school education. Maybe if I had been given a choice, I would have been more apt to squeeze in one or two fun ones such as Net Games, but I must admit that Team Sports, a required class at my old high school, is a class in my memory that I would love to erase...forever. Report
I am currently student teaching Physical Education at the middle school level and am excited to graduate from the University of Utah in May. I absolutely think PE is important in schools. The way we learn to teach PE in college programs now has little to do with sports and athletes and winning. We are all trying to move into a mode of teaching fitness concepts such as cardiovascular endurance, strength training, flexibility, body composition, nutrition, etc. It is also our goal to provide the students with many activities that will help them find their niche in the world of exercise so they can be happy and healthy for a lifetime. It is important for kids to be active and play and get exercise after school but when they grow older (20's-30's) there is no way they are going to just go out and play slay the dragon with the buddy next door. People need to learn how to exercise and learn fitness concepts just as they need to learn math formulas and writing strategies. I am so sad to hear these negative PE experiences but I hope for a brighter future for PE with the upcoming teachers. We need to set the standard for PE higher, not cut it out. We need quality teachers who want to help the health of our nation who stay current on research and dont get stuck in old ways and habits. No more Mr. Woodcock PE teachers- you have to demand better quality for our schools. Report
P.E. should be a part of the curriculum in schools today. Report
I think P.E is great for kids, gives them time to get away from the books. I also feel there needs to be less junk foods in some schools. I ask my son what he had for lunch, most of the time he tells me he just had a Mt Dew. Lots of caffeine and calories there. Report
Yes I feel it is very important was my favorite class :} Report
PE in school is more important than ever. With 2 parents working, there isn't as much family time to do physical activity. Studies on obesity don't rule here. PE should be in school daily or 3 times weekly to help youth build skills, and most important the habit of activity. Report
PE is important. It should be required every day!!!!! Report
I believe PE is especially important in the younger grades, PK through 5 or 6. After that kids start smelling pretty easily and they are really self conscious about having to change clothes and all. I think in the older grades, when most kids have mastered controlling themselves and sitting for long periods that PE should be optional. I think in younger grades it should happen EVERY day! Kids are not made to sit still for hours on end. It's just not in their nature, nor should it be. Report
Without a doubt PE should remain in the schools. The exposure students get from a good PE program will allow them to make choices later and allow them to learn new things. Also some students do not have the opportunities to run and play after school. They may be in a dangerous environment, it could be dark where they live, or they could be at an extended program with parents who work all of which would not allow the children to get exercise in a safe manner. Regardless of an overall study, PE is a good investment even if it only helps a few children. Report
I agree that PE should be in school's curriculum. When I was a high school student we got to choose what we wanted to do in PE, which allowed me to try things I probably never would have tried - like cross country skiing. Report
PE at my school was met if you were on a sports team and for the President's fitness exam annually. I enjoyed PE because I actually did something other than dress out. However, for my children who attended HISD, Houston Indp School District, and even my grandchildren PE was mostly dressing out, checking roll and about 10 min of activity or so. When they got to High School then finally, their sports counted. I think helping children find a sport they enjoy and allowing that to be a substitute for the PE grouse around would be the best solution. Our school was very proud that most (over 60%) passed the President's Fitness program. Of course that hurdle may have been pretty easy back in the day Report