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?