For adults, the goal of exercise is often to shed some pounds, but new research from the University of Georgia suggests the objective should be different for kids.
Physical education should focus on improving students’ physical skills, knowledge of the benefits of exercise and motivation to be active. The goal should be to build students’ cardiorespiratory endurance, a measure of how well the body handles long periods of exercise—not to help them lose weight, according to the study’s authors. Kids can be overweight (as measured by the Body Mass Index, or BMI) and still able to reach the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. And students who are more active during PE, despite their weight, are more likely to stay active after school as well.
“Research has shown that even in young children, people who are fitter in terms of cardiorespiratory endurance participate in more intense physical activities,” said lead author Sami Yli-Piipari, an associate professor in UGA’s Mary Frances Early College of Education. “It’s not really your weight that matters. Children can be a little bit overweight but still be relatively fit.”
The study followed 450 children, ages 10 through 12, who took 90 minutes of mandatory PE every week. The students wore an accelerometer on their right hip during the day to track their total physical activity for a week, and simple tests—such as being able to do a regular or modified pushup or crunch— were used to determine their mastery of physical skills. The researchers also explored whether students enjoyed PE or participated out of obligation.
“Physical education matters,” Yli-Piipari said. “It’s not only where students learn the skills, abilities and motivation to be active; it’s where students are having to do something active at a higher intensity than they probably would after school.”