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Friday, April 21, 2006

It is time to make daily physical activity compulsory in schools

We have to make daily physical activity compulsory in schools and childcare facilities and we have to do this right NOW!

News reports today that heart disease rates, including deaths, are skyrocketing in younger people while rates are dropping in older people are further indications of what we face over coming years. We have the added problem of the tsunami of ageing Baby Boomers who are making increasing demands on health and welfare services. Our health and welfare services are caught in a deadly pincer maneuver coming from above and below.

Couple this with reports today, by medical specialists, that the health system is "rotten to the core", lurching from one crisis to another, and it is clearly time for positive action. I want an end to all the talk and dithering. Let's see some real action for a change.

While there are no single solutions to this enormous problem an inexpensive and effective measure that can and should be introduced immediately is daily compulsory physical activity in every school and childcare facility. What I can tell you from years of experience in prescribing exercise is that regular physical activity that is practiced for at least 8 weeks brings about significant and often dramatic improvements in physical and mental health.

If practiced consistently for longer than 8 weeks, it is almost a given that the participant will continue to exercise indefinitely because it has become a positive habit much like the habit of brushing one's teeth if not brushed that day, the person feel uncomfortable. Same happens with habitual exercise.

Other beneficial changes happen: The exercise participant, without any need for persuasion, will make subtle, yet important improvements to their diet, including eating more fruits and vegetables and eating less "junk food". These people are most unlikely to become smokers and, if a smoker, are more likely to succeed in giving up.

"Make the parents responsible for exercising their children and feeding them properly", you might argue. My response is to say, "Give up on that idea". What we have coming through nowadays is new parents who are the first generation that really were the junk food kids that were driven everywhere by Mum in the back of the SUV. They are now the ones who are having the children. These new parents know nothing else and, regardless of escalating fuel prices, they will persist in driving Jane and Johnny to school and everywhere else; and, for them, "party food" is the norm.

A further issue is that the new teachers now coming into the schools are the same as young parents - they have little understanding of exercise, how to incorporate it into daily life, how to make it fun and effective and they know little, in practice, about what consititutes a healthy diet. While some schools or classes have daily physical activity, these are by far in the the minority and these rely on the enthusiastic drive of a few individuals. It would be folly to try to extend these programmes by relying on the voluntary participation by statically challenged teachers who know nothing other than sloth and bags of potato chips.

The solution is compulsory daily physical activity in schools and childcare facilities that is taken by each class teacher for his or her pupils. While there will be resistance, this will abate as the programme progresses beyond 8 weeks and the practice becomes a habit for all and the benefits, like less absenteeism and better academic grades, begin to kick in.


Wayne said...

The alternative? The health statistics for sedentary people make for sad reading, oorer mental concetration, higher risk of mental problems, three times the heart attack risk, its not uncommon for heart attacks to occur in peoples thirties. Three times the rate of depression, increased risk from colon cancer, increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, increased osteoporosis, greatly reduced mobility in old age, far higher joint problems often requiring joint replacement, that is if you can get a joint replacement , its less and less likely on the public health system

Wayne said...

a team of top class Swedish senior distance runners went to Kenya to train, they were habitually thrashed by the local children, why? because the children had developed superior cardiovascular systems running up to 100km a week to and from school, they estimated there would have been about 500 children in the region of superior athletic ability.
what were the Swedes doing as children? riding to school perhaps?
surely that’s burning the children out at a young age? these children go on to be the best international athletes at senior level that you see on TV at the Olympics and commonwealth games.