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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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Comments

PE should definitely be a daily requirement for all schools. I loved PE and all of the various activities I was introduced to in the class. I would hate for future generations to miss out on the experiences that could be gained in the class! Report
Admittedly, I am biased. I teach physical education in a Manitoba school. We have a detailed health and physical education curriculum that includes general learning objects for knowledge and skills in the areas of movement, fitness management, safety, personal and social management and healthy lifestyle practices. In almost every case the teachers are specialists who have at least an undergraduate degree. It sounds to me like many of the programs in your districts are decades behind the times. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater CHANGE THE WATER. A few years ago there was a funding crunch here and as previously mentioned it looked like physical education would be the first casualty. After a series of meetings over time, not only did physical education survive but the provincial government instituted new legislation for healthy schools and healthy living. We live in a time when few people do any physical work. We're a sedentary population. Children need the examples and the experiences to build a healthy active life that continues after they leave school. We have a responsibility to provide that for them. It shouldn't be a journey they have to undertake on their own later in life because they have discovered that they feel awful and can't climb the stairs at work anymore.
As for the assertion that children will make up an activity defict on their own, that may be true of some children but in my experience I have to teach many of my students games that we all learned from other children on the playground because they have no experience with them at all. They just don't do anything active outside of school.
There are a number of studies that indicate that children learn better when they are physically active. There is also an older study that indicated that childrens' level of physical fitness declined steadily from the age of 6 when they entered school fulltime. Be critical of what you read. Remember Dr. Wakefield and his discredited autism research.
It's distressing to me that so many of you had a negative experience in physical education. Here it is universally regarded by kids as their favorite place to be and so it should be. There is true joy in movement and we were all meant to experience it. Keep moving everyone and take your children with you! Report
One line in this blog really jumped out at me as I was contemplating my feelings about PE "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."
No offense, Jen, but you might want to spend some time investigating what PE looks like these days before you want to support it. I was not exposed to much of ANYTHING in PE except for social stigma. By second grade PE at my school was about 2 hours a week of running laps around the basketball court followed by a "game" in which only students who knew how to play were allowed to participate: usually basketball or soccer, which I didn't even know the POINT of until about 7th grade. Kickball was the only day I even got to TRY to play. Now I know it's not fair to say "PE made me fat" but subjecting kids to something this stigmatizing and negative and calling it "exercise" certainly doesn't pave the way for a healthy and active future.
If you want PE it needs to be developmentally appropierate, inclusive, and educational- not just a time for the athletes to remind their less fit peers of their incompetence. So do I think PE should be in all schools? Until teachers are trained to do it right, good god no! Report
LINDA1127
I think that choices and encouragement to try new things are an important part of PE. The constant testing that LILCATCHER0306 talks about or being stuck with one activity like BAREADER and her kickball are a sure way to kill interest.
I also think that -- in the younger grades-- part of the time children have PE should be directed activities and part should be a time children can use equipment/ try activities they've recently spent time on. Having access to the gym/ equipment to use during recess (something that is so important for kids that seems to be getting lost at a lot of schools) would be wonderful. Report
BIJOUX7
YES if PE teaches life long health behaviors... Although I hated PE in school with a passion we played lots of dodge ball, but we also had the option of running if we did not want to play dodgeball....I ran in the rain cold and so to avoid the red rubber ball, I still run passionately today...So happy to read on a previous post that IL has mandatory PE....I could be moving there for residency in July and I want my son to continue to have PE (my kindergartner LOVES PE) Report
PE is vital for all children in school . Physical Education needs to recieve more attention and each child needs a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Parents need to be given tips and ideas of how to keep kids active at home and what types of physical skills they can work on with their children on weekends and evenings. Too many children in our country are obese and have medical conditions resulting from hours of sitting in front of the TV , computer and video games. Health education is equally needed and always takes a back seat to other educational needs when budgets are tight.
Report
I definitely think PE is important, but not the way they're doing it now. I graduated in '07, and my high school PE consisted mainly of the coaches babysitting us while the athletic types played basketball, and the rest stood around talking. It was ridiculous. My elementary and middle school PE classes weren't much better: we were split into teams to play whatever sport we were doing that day. Again, those who were naturally athletic did most of the playing, while the rest of us were picked last for teams or made fun of because we couldn't hit the baseball. And dodgeball was just terrifying. There was no place for the uncoordinated, and the coaches didn't seem to notice or care.

Now that I'm beginning to exercise as an adult, I find it extremely fun and challenging, and I think that if I'd had a good foundation while I was in school, I would have enjoyed exercising then, too.

I do think that nutrition is more important than scheduled exercise, and if I have to choose one thing for the schools to reform, it's the quality of their food. But if they're going to keep PE, it definitely needs a giant overhaul. Report
-PAULA
PE is good in the schools. Decades later, I still remember the classes benefiting me as it was about my only exercise. Report
ALIH5308
I think PE is different from when I went to school. Now kids have workout equipment. That’s okay but in my day we played lame games that did nothing for our physical bodies. We stood or sat around a lot.

PE in my opinion does not give a person enough time to get any real exercise in. By the time you change, get the equipment out, shower and change again, there is no time in the middle for doing much. After school sports is a much better idea. You have more choice in what to do with your own body and more time to do it. Some people are better at running, some at lifting weights.

I hated PE (then called gym) so much that I got a medical excuse to get out of it. For some kids it’s more damaging to the mind and soul than beneficial to the body.

Ali H Report
I think kids need to be active. I believe kids need the exercise and teamwork involved in PE and not all will get it at home. The benefits are far too great in better modds and better health. Some kids will just not get it at home. Report
I think PE is really important and should be a requirement for K-12. Excercise is so important. Report
STRAIGHTACE
PE in schools should be eliminated or made entirely optional. I would bet you anything that if a study were done anytime after graduation, students who had not had gym in school would be in just as good shape and exercising just as much as those who had had mandatory gym classes. Report
PE - if done well - is so important for kids. My children went to an elementary & middle school with PE 4 times a week and recess twice a day. My oldest is not an athlete at all but still loved PE. PE focused on sportsmanship, healthy competition, skill development and health habit formation (exercise, nutrition, healthy lifestyle choices). What a gift to my kids who are fitter and much more nutritionally conscious than I was as a teen and young adult. Report
I hated PE. I had some body image issues and I hated to have to change clothes in front of everybody (we didn't have to shower, thank GOD) and into SHORTS no less. Gag!!! I still won't wear shorts. Eventually it got cold and we could wear sweatpants and I would just keep wearing them past when it warmed up again.

I really don't remember much about PE. I did not enjoy it. I did not enjoy team sport at all. I don't think we really learned sportsmanship, or teamwork. Some days we would have a free day where you could play, once again, some team sport. But since I hate team sports with a passion I would just walk around the perimeter of the blacktop the entire time (since we weren't allowed to sit.) One time the PE teacher told me I was doing good by walking (I guess we all know now that walking is a viable form of exercise, but at the time I had no idea).

The problem is I find traditional sports like baseball, basketball, football (which we didn't play), track, aerobics, volleyball really, really unattractive. I wanted to do things like fencing or archery or martial arts. (I even voluntarily took a fencing class in college.) I probably would have been more enthusiastic about that.

I remember in elementary school they tested us on some stretches. One of the stretches was where you lay flat on the ground on your stomach and then tried to raise your torso as far up as you could without using your arms. Now, I was what you would call an early bloomer, and I had large breasts by the time I was in 6th grade. I cannot lay on my stomach without my arms underneath me to take the weight off my breasts. That test was PAINFUL. Was there any consideration for this? No. Could I have told them I couldn't do it because of this? No. That's mortifying. Because I was 11. Report
I think P.E. should be required. I'm not at the other end of the age continuum, and I can testify that fitness activity is not really optional, it's required to maintain adequate strength to weather life's vicissitudes. Just ask my "I hate exercise" MIL, who had to spend an extra 3 weeks in a SNF when she broke her hip. Report
I think PE classes are very important on a numbner of counts. It teaches teammanship, and gets young people up off their behinds away from video games and cell phone for a least a bit. Children today don't seem to understand that if you don't use it you loose it and the realization won't hit them until the pains and stiffness of inactive adulthood hit. Report
PE is very important if the teacher is good. Children learn different sports and learn acting as a team, can see that all their mates are exercising. Children just need structurized PE lessons. They enjoy it. I was shocked to learn that my childrens'school doesn't have a single PE teacher.!!!!!! They had PE with their regular teacher. This year they got one, he is very good, the children enjoy PE.
I agree, this article is very sad to read. Made me unhappy. They need more PE, not less. Report
CRACKERMOM
I was forced to attend PE classes in school as a child and I hated them!! I was no good at team sports and the teachers placed more emphasis on winning than just having fun or improving my own skills. I wouldn't exercise as an adult for years because I felt I had no athletic skills and felt like such a klutz. Now that I'm over 50 and exercising for my health and well-being I've found I really enjoy non-competetive activities such as walking and spinning class at the Y! At 53 I've even taken up jogging!!
I think PE is a great concept but just needs to be taught differently and more emphasis needs to be placed on exercise as "fun" something you can do for a lifetime and finding a wider variety of activities kids can participate in so that everyone can find something they can enjoy and excel at. Report
This is distressing. It was obvious that some of the kids I went to school with didn't get any other exercise except for P.E. That period was the introduction to participating as a team, learning to push yourself when you wanted to give up and putting focus on "TEAM" instead of "I". It will be a sad day when it disappears.... Report
Also, that's where I learned to score for bolwing and now I'm on a bowling league. I'm glad I learned. We learned alot in our pe classes--how to lift weights with proper form, how to play particular games, how to choreograph aerobics... Maybe my school did a better job of teaching than others. We had a written test to go with each unit to make sure we learned. Report
I agree with the wide variety of activities that PE introduces you to being a very strong Pro. My family loves to play badmitton, but I never would have been interested if I hadn't played it in PE. Archery was a sport I never would have tried if not for our range at school. Even tennis, which is very common--I only played it in high school. I don't go out of my way to play tennis now, but when I get the chance, I love to pick up a racket. Report
1LBDOWN
I HATED P.E. as a kid. hated it! Hate Hate Hate! I will just say though, looking back on it, I'm so glad I had it. It gave me the opportunity to try and really understand various sports. If I had it to do over, knowing what I know now, I would fight to keep P.E. in school.

The one thing I would do is make showering optional. It seems a little unreasonable to ask children to change clothes, shower, and change again in a micro amount of time, in the middle of their school days. I found that very stressful. I just didn't have time and it was upsetting. I take a long time to dress and shower, and I didn't appreciate that kind of rushing. I'm an artist. LOL! Don't rush me. Report
Children are not "programmed" to sit at a desk for hours on end. P.E. is a chance to move - something they are programmed to do. It also teaches sportsmanship, perserverance and co-operation in ways that other classes can't.
Let's not be fooled by some study in the UK. THis is not the UK and we don't know who funded the study and what their motivation was.

I know my son wouldn't make it through the hours of sitting still if not for the chance to move during PE Report
I think it matters but broadening the focus from sports to fitness and encouraging all to explore activities they can do and enjoy would be better Report
PAT_PALINKAS
I think P.E. is important. But as with all things it depends on how the class is handled. I hated P.E. not only did the kids torment me but the teacher ridiculed me and embarrassed me so much I refused to go. Report
I think if PE is handled correctly, it's probably a good thing. However, I was in PE from grades 1-10 and I can't remember a time it WAS handled well. It made me feel stupid and inept and fat, both because of the curriculum and the other kids in the class. And I wasn't an inactive kid. I was very good at softball, and in particular I was a fantastic hitter, but I remember so clearly being 15 in PE and standing at the back of the line so I wouldn't have to go up to bat. I didn't want anyone to see me and I didn't want to draw attention to myself because PE had created this culture where I was one of the fat ones who couldn't do anything and I was trapped in that. And I can say now, "I should've had a better sense of self" but the fact of the matter is I was FIFTEEN and I was put in this situation that seemed designed to make me feel bad about myself.

If anything, PE put me off physical exercise because it instilled in me the idea that being active was about feeling inept and being made fun of. It's taken me almost ten years to recover from that. Report
Luckily, my boys love PE (I hated it as a kid). But, they are lucky to get it once a week. When I talk to them about it, half the time they are doing something inside! I remember playing softball, kickball, etc.
My husband and I make them go outside after school & on the weekends. It is frustrating because when we ask them what they did while they were outside, they usually tell us they were inside their friends house playing video games!! Report
SQUIRTSMOM1
I had PE my entire childhood in school. It wasnt just about sports though. We did a wide variety of things from learning different dances, jump roping, and this thing called tanickeling which was very cool. My daughter has what our school system calls "PE/Health". She learns everything from good eating habits to sportmanship and everything in between. Unbelieveable what she comes home and tells me waht she learns every day. Programs like this I feel should be in all schools Report
In the schools here, you have to be able to pass certain agility tests before you can pass the grade. Different age groups have different tests. You can actually flunk the grade if you can't pass P.E. and
they are very strict about overweight kids. They send letters home to the parents to encourage exercise among their kids and warn them that they will fail if they can't pass the test. Some parents tried to sue when their kids didn't make it but the court upheld the school policy and it has made a huge impact on our kids. That program went into effect when Mike Johanns was Govenor before he
went to work in the White House Cabinet under President George Bush. He is devoted to kids and what's best for them. We as a nation, should care that much!
Robyn Report
PE is a great opportunity to teach children about "Leisure Lifestyle Choices". That's what's missing from alot of PE Classes. It's not just about basketball & baseball...it can be a chance for kids to learn about different kinds of dance, swimming & water aerobics, strength training, bicycling, bowling, recreational & competitive running, and so many more things. PE really misses the boat if all they're doing is plain exercising. Definitely needs to be about how to keep active throughout your life. Report
PE class is both good and bad. There are reasons to have it, and reasons why it may actually be a bad thing.

On one hand, it does expose kids to a wide variety of exercises. It teaches team work, following rules, etc. On the other hand, being picked last can be bad for self-esteem, as can finishing the mile run last (that was me until I took up running!).

Overall though, I think it should stay. It should maybe evolve for older kids into more of a life activity class, but should teach younger kids new sports. In my senior year of HS, or gym was Walking Fitness. We walked, did step, did country line dancing (I'm so bad at it), and circuit trained. By the end of the year, I lost 4 lbs, and that was without diet modifications or other exercise. Report
GRANDMO1
I think that Phys. Ed is an important part a child's education. It not only can teach them the rules of the games but how to get along with others and give kids who are not "smart" a forum to shine in their own way. Report
Many years ago PE was not an option. Today the schools don't even have it.
Yet we are seeing more obesity and health problems related to obese children than ever before. Where i came from and where i now live, is like day and night for peoples health issues. This is a serious concern and we must teach our children nutrition and good exercise if we want them to lead us into the next phase of life. Report
In primary school, I think PE classes can do some good. However, in high school my friends and I simply truanted from it - I saw no point to it as I greatly disliked most forms of exercise. Gymnastics and football hold no interest for me, and never did. In 3rd and 4th year (scottish system) I went to PE classes a grand total of two times. Both times my teacher couldn't find me on the register and I left early anyway.

For us, that was normal. Only the chavs on attendance sheets, and the sporty kids with richer parents, actually went... And there really isn't a way for schools to force the issue.

My point is that if PE makes high school kids so unhappy, then it should be optional. Making something where you're forced to exercise in front of your peers a core subject can greatly damage a kid's self esteem. Report
I must agree that PE classes (as with any class) are beneficial when taught by an engaging and motivating teacher. Our students play badmitten, frisbee, and even do work out DVD's! The kids love it and they love their teacher! It's all in the presentation and the dedication! Report
PE is subject to the same benefit limitations as anything else taught in school. The value of it is greatly influenced by what is being taught and how. I HATED PE at every grade level, with the exception of a few times during Jr. High School. The exceptions were things like square dancing and aerobics. It made me think that I hated exercise. When I got to college, I realized that I didn't hate exercise, I hated sports. Through so much of my education PE meant team sports, and misery. I think PE should focus much more on teaching kids about different ways to be active, good form and posture, strength and flexibility, and build a connection between how they eat and how they move. If kids want to participate in competitive sports, that would be extra curricular. Report
ERINLASH78
I'm an elementary school teacher and honestly, every time I step into a P.e. class I'm reminded of the movie Clueless. The kids are standing in lines waiting for their turn and when they finally get to the front, it's 30 seconds or less of physical activity. When I was in school we would play games like soccer, basketballetc. that actually taught skill and burned calories. Our schools have become so curriculum driven, that even elementary P.E. has become boring and focused on following rules instead of having fun and being active. Report
While I hated it as a kid, I think it gives kids some of the ONLY activity they get especially these days with video games, texting and the internet. I think that it should be more than the standard games like Dodge Ball that encourage people to pick the popular kids and leave the sluggish behind. (Care to guess which one I was? LOL) Have Tae Bo, Zumba, DDR which is incorporated a lot these days as options for kids who don't want to do team oriented sports or hurdles or high jump stuff that is just plain out of their realm of comfort. I could never do that crap and resented being forced to do it and my grade reflected that. If I'd had a fun video to do as an alternative to still get credit, I might've done more and found exercise fun. Report
I think PE should focus more on introducing kids to different types of exercise and not as much on how they do (like the physical fitness tests & such). I think it's a great forum for them to learn about health and their bodies as well as try their hand at different sports. It should be used as an introductory class more than a performance class, that way kids can find the exercises that work for them and do them on their own, recreationally. I think once a week for PE is plenty. Report
PE in school is a waste of time.

I hated every minute of every class.

Our junior classes were a bit of gym or running round the school hall

Senior school was cross-country running, hockey and some athletic work

Loathed it totally

Why couldn't they do some aqua-aerobics? We had a pool.
Why couldn't they do pilates?
Or some aerobics?

Those things are interesting and productive

Report
ARTROX
In HS, my gym classes were cut in my senior year. Although I was never a big proponent for it, it was better to have than not. So many schools have since cut PE altogether out of the day in favor of test prep...sheesh! Let kids go out and run free, play games, etc. It's what they're meant to do ;) Report
I grew up in Illinois, which is currently the ONLY state that requires PE be part of the curriculum every day. Here in WI, the kids have PE only 2-3 times a week- it's crazy! Report
I think PE in the schools is good. If nothing else, it gives kids a break from sitting in the classroom and lets them refocus their energy. Report
HAKIRBY
Clearly none of you have ever been in a UK PE lesson at a state school. The world would not miss them if they were removed from the cirriculum. They put children off sport forever.

The best people to encourage fitness and health is the parents who can find something that suits the child. Report
ERAALPERT
I agree that PE definitely needs a makeover! Because of my high school gym class, I always thought that I hated running because we were graded on how fast we could run. Now I'm a marathoner who absolutely adores running.... and still wouldn't be able to get a "A" in running by the standards I was graded on in high school! Report
MAINEAMY09
I think PE is important, but what I think is more important is the parents encouraging their kids to try new sports and of out and play instead of buying them the next new and cool DVD or video game. if they have PE, kids who have parents that dont encourage fitness and healthy lifestyle, are at much more risk of obesity than a child who doesnt have PE and lives a healthy lifestyle are.

to make a long story short : Its not the school systems responsibility to keep our kids healthy, its the parents. Report
When I was in high school, we did "Project Adventure" where we learned to work as a team (ever try climbing over a flat wooden wall without a rope??? Our class did it!). Not every class got to do this (the teacher had to be certified) and that was more educational than playing basketball for 5 months straight like we did my junior year (and never being taught the rules or anything more in depth than "get the ball in the net"). We had health for a year and driver's education which was a lot better than the regular gym class (an in, I actually learned something). I did enjoy the times when we tried something different like archery but the one year that we did nothing but play basketball, I could have done without. When done right, I think PE is a great addition to the school day but I think the majority of time, it can be pretty worthless. Especially since if the kids don't want to participate, they won't. You aren't going to add any extra activity to a child's day by forcing them. And let's not even going into the painful social situations for kids who can't do a sport or just feel embarrassed out there... I'm sure everyone has that gym class horror story about the time they got the basketball and were sprinting down the court only to trip on their untied shoe laces... Yeah.. things like that don't happen in History class.
~Ang Report
Illinois requires PE K-12 so I took PE every year, K-12, and I hated every minute of it. For me PE was pure toture, and I WAS and active kid. I played softball from 9 - 16, and I swam competitively from 10 - 17. Regardless I still hated every minute of PE. The only time I actually enjoyed going to PE were the two quarters a year I got to skip actual PE class to lifeguard and aide in the freshman PE class. Report
OCEANART
I am over 50 and remember when PE meant PHYSICAL EDUCATION!!! We learned everything from how to do various dances including but not limited to the waltz, swing dhance and at that time the Twist. We also learned about our Health, including but not limited to the various systems of the body, reproductive health and something completely missing in any classroom today as far as I can tell 'Courtesy.' PE was a CLASS. The instructors did not have another Class to teach and throw PE in a couple times a week for 30 minutes and do whatever the sport of the season was. Boys and Girls learned the RULES of the sports; how to play them; good sportsmanship; and if you were someone who didn't fit with that sport...because the teacher was a PE educated teacher, they found you a different activity to avoid injury to either body or soul. I obviously feel there is a serious lack of attention paid to this in schools all over the United States today. I come into contact on a regular basis with students earning PhD's in science from countries all over the world...they have Physical Education classes from the time they enter school until they graduate ... in some cases for an hour per day. They go to school for a longer day - they also end up with better overall educations than what we are putting out in this country. We may have the Universities that they want to attend...but our own population is seriously lacking. Physical activity increases the learning potential in all students, relieves the stress of book/lecture learning and test taking...without it our students are simply put....burnt out from over use of the mental energy needed and under use of the physical being. The one benefits from the other. Report
I agree that PE should probably be used to teach kids about health and fitness to help them remain healthy when they become adults. All we ever did in PE was play kickball, in other words we mostly stood around. Report