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July 02, 2010

Are your kids failing their fitness tests? Join the club.

Does your child get at least 60 minutes of aerobic exercise every day? Yes/No.

I paused over the form for my 6-year-old daughter’s first appointment with her new doctor, my mind racing. Depends on how you define “aerobic.” Does walking count? How about 30 minutes of martial arts twice a week?

I’d whizzed through the details of our diet, our smoking habits (or lack thereof), and a dozen other indicators of our fitness as parents. Then came the question based on new national exercise standards — about children’s need for at least an hour of intense activity daily. Every day?

My husband and I are fitness freaks, and so we maniacally incorporate workouts into parenting — not only the “Hey, let’s race to the next tree” variety but also “Let’s go for a 10-mile bike ride in 90-degree weather”! We don’t have a television, and we drag our kids on errands on foot instead of by car. But that’s just the weekends: During the week our kids attend an urban public school where PE arrives once a week and the schoolyard consists of little more than a crowded blacktop. Opportunities to run, bike, and kick a ball are limited at best. If we weren’t making sure our children got the minimum recommended activity, who was?

From a story today in the Houston Chronicle, the answer may be a paltry few. It reports that a full two-thirds of Texas children failed the state’s fitness test last year. The worst age group? High school seniors, only 8% of whom met the healthy standard. One might think this is a Texas thing — its megacities are among the national centers for supersized portions and people. But results from California’s most recent fitness tests were hardly better: Only 28.5% of fifth graders, 32.9% of seventh graders, and 35.6% of ninth graders reached the "healthy fitness zone" (HFZ) in all areas of the test in 2008.

Even as fitness recommendations for kids are becoming more rigorous, the likelihood that they will get the chance to exercise is decreasing. Talk about setting them up for failure! Based on budget cuts and a misguided focus on academics (hello! better fitness runs hand in hand with higher academic performance and fewer discipline problems), PE programs and even recess are getting slashed from sea to shining sea. No doubt closed schools will force more kids to spend more time commuting in cars and buses instead of walking or riding their bikes to school.

My response to the form? To lie through my pen and check the “yes” box, but I’ve been sweating it ever since. If our schools don’t help kids stay active, we parents need to do it. But will it take bigger fitness fanatics than me to succeed?


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Really? Did any of us get 60 minutes of aerobic exercise a day? I used to go out every day after school and play kickball in the neighborhood, but kickball is like baseball, a whole lot of standing around, punctuated by a few minutes of running ten feet.

Sometimes we'd ride bikes, and maybe our little 10 minute spurts would add up to an hour, but not too often, I'd guess.

It's the "aerobic" part of that question that throws it, I think -- if it were just "60 minutes of running around, playing, or doing something that's not watching tv" I think we could safely answer yes.

I got a ton of exercise as a kid just in typical daily activities. I remember running around the school yard at recess and then we'd have PE. In high school I played sports with at least 2 hours of practice everyday! In addition to that there were dance classes and walking to/from school. Its no wonder that kids can't sit still and concentrate in class, there's no outlet for all that energy with the structure of classes today. I think since safety is more of a concern that plays a part as well since kids can't just go play outside the way they used to. Its really sad that we struggle to allow kids 60 minutes of activity per day. I agree with Carol that fitness and academic success are linked.

Part of the problem is that children are just not outside enough. As Glenn Cook States in the Las Vegas Review http://www.lvrj.com/opinion/the-obesity-cure--free-range-kids-98190944.html , our culture doesn't allow for unsupervised outside free play. When we were kids, we often would be kicked out of the house in the morning, not to return until dinnertime. That's 8-9 hours of outside time -- running around, riding a bike and getting physically fit just during our everyday activities. In this helecopter parenting world, children are often not allowed to play in their own back yard let alone go up the street to a friends house. Busses in our rural area practically stop at every child's house, and there are no longer kids who walk or ride bikes to school. The children instead are practically encouraged to sit inside watching TV or playing on their DS, until the parent is able to arrange to take the child to a structured playdate, soccer game, or even school.

So in that context, we don't need to sign our kid up for the next aerobic class, but we do need to get them out of the house and playing -- free range style.

Keeping kids active is a real challenge. I agree with Michelle in that we don't let our kids roam free outside any more - but with the heightened awareness of our kids' safety and security, it is no wonder.

I recently signed my 14-year old up for a program www.getsweaty.com to encourage him to get some movement each day. Being a computer-based program, he's likely to give it a go. We also require time of intentional physical activity before he is allowed to play video games or watch TV (1/2 hour of excersize gets him 1 hour of 'screen time'). Initially he decided that he was outsmarting us by just reading a lot, but after a few days decided it was worth the effort.

Great post and all great comments. Washington is starting to take note of the situation but we need the states to take note too. Childhood Obesity isn't something we can ignore - we see it everywhere. What we don't see is the impact exercise, or lack of it, has on the brain. We strive for excellence on scholastic testing but exercise impacts the brain and also helps test scores.

As a kid, 40 to 50 years ago, I had plenty of time to run around and lots of space to do it, in Northern Arizona and New Mexico.

As a former PE teacher in a non-affluent area in Oakland, CA, I'm well aware of the challenges facing children and youth in achieving fitness goals. I discovered soccer in college. It is the most cost effective activity we can make available to kids in school or after school. The game is fun in any numbers one-on-one up to 11 a side. The smaller the teams the more insane the fun and the aerobic benefits. During a game no player is ever immobile.

Schools in California, and everywhere else, should have exercise periods for every child every day. Almost every school has a playground or other sports area larger than two classrooms. A lot can be done in that space. Children should probably have two half hour "fun" periods per day, but teachers need help. One adult cannot monitor the "wild-time" of thirty or even twenty children. Tens could help. College interns would be great.

Many public school systems invest an inordinate amount of funding in "team sports." Artificial turf, once installed should be used all-day, every-day. Soccer in the rain is great fun, if the turf won't be damaged and showers are available.

The California fitness standards are no joke. I had few students who could do very-well on all the standards. One test I could not pass myself. Point one elbow toward the sky and one toward the earth and touch opposing finger tips behind your back. Now reverse elbows and do it again. I could only do one side. Boys - seven chin-ups, girls - two. Extend the arms fully between each pull-up and of course get the chin over the bar each time. All the tests were useful goals, but not easy.

Most seniors in California don't take PE. Only two years are required in high school. I think more students "failed" PE than other classes at my school. They had the opportunity to take it more seriously as seniors.

People today have a greater need for glasses than a generation ago because they are more near-sighted (myopic). I recently read that a study has found that the factor that accounts for better eyesight is time spent outside. We need to get out and be much more active. It is how we are evolved to live, as a species. Our kids need less screen time, more moving and playing in the great outdoors.

I am concerned about Physical Education in New York City Schools. My major concern is lack of space, as well as certified physical educators. Many of the schools do not provide the state mandated time to support Fitness and Wellness programs. Many of our students in urban areas have difficulites in paying attention, and need the outlet of playing, runing, jumping, skipping, and fitness development. It also takes a teacher who knows how to achieve these goals. Without adequate supervison of these teachers, it is unlikely that students will ever develop the skills they need to become happy and productive citizen's.

I am working on developing a network of charter schools that focus on Healthy Green Living, and inform students about their role in creating a healthy, productive society that is based on ethics, and the need to improve a child's health needs at every level. In short, my goals are to educate the
"Whole Child", and link Health and wellness to citizenship, and education success.

Unfortunately, this is not the role of the public schools in New York City today.

Children should be practiced fitness exercises at their young age itself. They normally have flexible bones and good circulation of the blood. If they do not practice fitness exercise, yoga and sport activities, it would create lot of difficulties at their old age. Hence start your fitness campaign!!!

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