CBC News Toronto just posted an article stating that less than 50 per cent of elementary school students are getting daily exercise. While I'm not at all shocked by their report, I do find it incredibly frustrating. Not only has this been a problem for quite sometime now, it doesn't seem like there are very many plans in the works to change it.
If kids today aren't as healthy as they used to be and if, as so many TV commercials are telling us, they aren't getting nearly enough exercise and are at risk for a plethora of health concerns down the road, can't our schools help us out? Since not all families can affored extra curricular activities or may have a problem with transportation, shouldn't we be working together on this?
Our kids are in school most of the day and need a chance to move around, get their hearts pumping and blood flowing. It's been proven that just 20 minutes of sustained, vigorous exercise helps kids learn better, which is why Ontario introduced the "Healthy Schools Initiative" in 2005 which ensured that kids got up and moved for 20 minutes everyday.
Sadly, this program has pretty much been abandoned. I don't blame the teachers. Most of them would love to give their students a chance to re-energize during the day but feel that their schedules just don't leave them ample time to do it.
What's worse is how often gym is the first class to be cancelled when there's an issue with over scheduling and all of a sudden the scheduled two gym classes a week get cut to only ONE. Now factor in those days when it's too rainy or snowy for outdoor recess and the kids are kept inside all day. The situation is a grim one.
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The government is so quick to attack food as the problem but maybe that's because taking food out is easier than putting exercise in.
The truth is that as a parent, I'm less concerned with the food that's available at my children's school than I am with the physical activity that is NOT.
Recently, I was talking with some university students about the challenges they face when it comes to staying healthy at school and an issue that came up a lot was TIME. They don't feel that they have enough time to fit exercise into their schedules. I believe a big part of that is because from the minute they start school our school systems tell them that it's just not that important.
In many elementary schools, kids are supposed to have Phys Ed classes between one and three times a week (not enough in my books) and yet, I can't tell you how many times my kids have come home from school complaining that gym class was cancelled because they had an assembly or a presentation instead. Sometimes it's taken away as a punishment because the class was being too noisy or because they didn't finished their math lessons. It seems like gym class is the first one to be cancelled when teachers need to make room for something else and I'm just not OK with that. While it's become alright to cancel a gym class in order to get more work done in a different subject, you'd never hear a teacher say, "Well class, since we didn't finish our volleyball game, we'll have to miss math."
By the time most kids hit Secondary School, phys ed class becomes an option and once again the message this sends is that in order to succeed you must work hard at academics and if that leaves no room for physical activity, so be it. It's no wonder that by the time these kids get to University, they're feeling incredibly pressured to perform well academically and feel that making room for exercise is a luxury they can't afford.
A study out of Queen's University revealed that 51 per cent of female students between 18-25 years old reported binge eating due to stress and pressure to succeed academically and stress is also known to increase the risk of heart disease. Interestingly enough, exercise has been proven to be a great stress reducer!
If our school boards think they are doing our kids a favour by keeping them tied to their chairs and computers, they are sadly mistaken.
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