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With the passages of No Child Left Behind Act (2001) and the Common Core State Standards Act (2009), school districts have worked tirelessly to incorporate more time for core academic coursework. State mandated standardized tests and remediation efforts have put time constraints on teachers and administrators, and one of the consequences has been that less time exists for physical education and recess. Many schools across the country are providing Academic Intervention Services (AIS) during time allotted for physical education and recess, while others are opting out of recess all together. Not only does this trend contradict recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and other children’s health authorities, but these actions may lead to more serious health issues of children and adolescents.
Children Must Have Recess!
According to the AAP, "recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child's development." Additionally, many scientific studies have confirmed that physical fitness not only prevents obesity and physical health concerns, but it may be beneficial to a child’s academic performance. In fact, a comprehensive study conducted through Michigan State University demonstrated that physically fit students generally outperform their non-fit peers on teacher-assigned grades and objective standardized tests. Not only does physical exercise increase blood flow in the brain and provide relief from stress, but children who are physically fit are less likely to engage in behaviors that keep them from school or miss school because of physical illnesses, pregnancy, and depression.
11% of Teens Will Have Depression
Before the age of 18, 11% of adolescents will have a depressive disorder. Depressive symptoms of children and teenagers differ from adults; warnings signs in children include fear of a parent’s death, clinginess to caregivers, complaints of illness, and general refusals to go to school. Teenagers, who may be suffering from depression, may exhibit brooding behaviors and become difficult in school. Depression in youth can lead to a host of problems, such as substance abuse, co-existing health issues, resistance to treatments, and academic setbacks.
Middle School Is Tough
The middle school years are especially difficult for children, and girls tend to experience depression more than boys. Recently, researchers at the University of North Texas have discovered that physically fit sixth grade students report less depressive symptoms by seventh grade. What is most encouraging about this study is that girls, in particular, demonstrated the most improvements.
The researchers surveyed 437 sixth grade students from a large North Texas city. For the surveys, students responded to inquiries regarding physical fitness and depressive symptoms. The results indicated that girls experienced a higher frequency of depression and that the existence of depression in the sixth grade was a risk factor for subsequent depression in the seventh grade. When the researchers removed other predictors of depression, they found that physical fitness was an important protective factor against depression.
Physical Activity Reduces Depression In Kids
The findings of this study are significant, because they suggest that physical fitness may prevent depressive disorders and that the existence (or absence) of depression in sixth grade is an indicator of depression in later years. "Depression that begins at this time can lead to chronic or recurring depression in later years," says Camilo Ruggero, PhD, who presented the study at the American Psychological Association's 122nd Annual Convention. "Fitness programs are one way to help prevent depression in middle-schoolers…” Ruggero also stresses that overall fitness is the determining factor, not just physical activity. Unfortunately, children and teenagers are not getting enough physical activity; therefore, their chances at physical fitness are diminished.
Only 29% Had P.E. Classes
The Centers for Disease Control found that in 2013 only 27.1% of high school students reported to participate in daily exercise for 60 minutes or more each day. Only 29% of participants indicated that they attended a physical education class in school. While 77% of children ages 9 through 13 reported having participated in unstructured physical activity, the CDC’s results indicate that as children age, so does their access to opportunities to be physically active. These are startling statistics, since children and teenagers spend the majority of their time in school.
Children who are fit, typically go on to lead healthy lifestyles. Fitness includes “body fat, muscular strength, flexibility and endurance,” and it’s a part of a lifestyle choice. Another study, conducted through the University of West Virginia, Morgantown, shows that the breadth of a child’s physical fitness indicates academic achievement, as well as the probability of being fit as an adult. Not only does it help to prevent obesity and other physical diseases, but being active increases the production of serotonin and other mood enhancing chemicals, possibly leading to mental health benefits.
Many institutions, including the AAP, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, recommend at least 20 minutes of unstructured play time daily and 60 minutes physical activity for children ages 6 to 17. Current initiatives are underway to promote physical activity and outdoor play, such as the National Wildlife Federation’s work to encourage 10 million more children to play outdoors. Parents and other community members can further this movement by contacting their legislators regarding the Fitness Integrated with Teaching Kids Act (FIT Kids Act) or ask local school board members to adopt physical education and recess policies. By protecting opportunities for fitness, people can help protect youth from depressive disorders and their effects.
- Melissa Lavery, M.S.
American Heart Association. (2010, March 4). Students' physical fitness associated with academic achievement; organized physical activity. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 26, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100302185522.htm
American Psychological Association (APA). (2014, August 7). Physical fitness can help prevent young adolescents' depression, study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 26, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140807121448.htm
Connecting Kids and Nature: Working Towards 10 Million Kids Outdoors - National Wildlife Federation. (n.d.). Retrieved January 26, 2015, from http://www.nwf.org/what-we-do/kids-and-nature.aspx
Depression in Children and Adolescents (Fact Sheet). (n.d.). Retrieved January 26, 2015, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression-in-children-and-adolescents/index.shtml
Lue, E. (2013, September 3). Cutting Physical Education and Recess: Troubling Trends and How You Can Help. Retrieved January 26, 2015, from http://www.learningfirst.org/cutting-physical-education-and-recess-troubling-trends-and-how-you-can-help
Michigan State University. (2012, December 6). Fit kids finish first in the classroom. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 26, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121206131830.htm
Physical Activity Facts. (2014, October 7). Retrieved January 26, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/physicalactivity/facts.htm
Speregen, K. (n.d.). Physical Education in America's Public Schools: Physical Education and School Performance. Retrieved January 26, 2015, from http://sitemaker.umich.edu/356.speregen/physical_education_and_school_performance