Thursday, October 13, 2011

Finding Time for Fitness: PC and Physical Activity

A buzz of energy fills the room - feet bouncing, hands tapping, chairs shuffling. “When are we going outside?” a girl asks after chasing her friend around the room and under the desks. We start Project Coach academic tutoring at 3:20 PM. Not surprisingly, after a full six and a half hour school day, the kids are dying to run around.

An hour later, we rush out to the fields.  The pent up energy is released as soccer balls fly by, feet run towards the goal, and children yell to their friends for a pass.  The kids who caused behavioral problems in the classroom smile as they chase after the ball.

The soccer players from Gerena, Brightwood, and Lincoln elementary schools in Springfield do not get much time to exercise during the school day.  According to the Springfield Public Schools website, elementary school students participate in physical education for only 40 minutes a week.

Springfield’s children are not the only ones being deprived of the opportunity to play and compete.  The New York Daily just published an investigative news story about an audit of NYC elementary schools that found while “about 40% of city kids are obese or overweight, schools aren't providing the required physical education classes.”  NYC guidelines prescribe that students from kindergarten through third grade should have daily gym classes, totaling at least 2 hours of physical education each week, and that none of the 31 schools audited by the Controller’s office were in compliance.

Coach Joe Wray, a senior at Central High School and one of the experienced teenage coaches at PC, spent most of Wednesday’s game time working with two misbehaving fifth-grade students who needed some individual attention. During a post-game conversation, he overheard that the kids only attend P.E. twice a week for 20 minutes.  “That explains a lot right there.”
# of minutes of Gym per Week
Gerena Elementary
40 minutes
Brightwood Elementary
40 minutes
Lincoln Elementary
40 minutes
Smith College Campus School
120 minutes
Jackson Street School
80 minutes

Coach Joe’s observation about the link between behavior and activity is one lens through which to view the benefits of Project Coach. Another involves the fundamental health benefits linked to ongoing and intensive physical activity. Guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have even more ambitious targets to get young people moving. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans is a report designed to provide information and guidance on the types and amounts of physical activity that provide substantial health benefits. Here are the findings on children and adolescents:
  • Children and adolescents should do 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of physical activity daily.
    • Aerobic: Most of the 60 or more minutes a day should be either moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, and should include vigorous-intensity physical activity at least 3 days a week.
    • Muscle-strengthening: As part of their 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include muscle-strengthening physical activity at least 3 days of the week.
    • Bone-strengthening: As part of their 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include bone-strengthening physical activity at least 3 days of the week.

At Project Coach we take seriously the importance of getting children moving and having our sessions promote the range of physical activities identified as critical to health. In fact, last year a research study investigated the intensity of activity in a Project Coach session. Our coaches had kids moving through a range of activities that were aerobic, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening. The accelerometers that we used to track the intensity of movement reported that the elementary-aged players were only sedentary for 4.2 minutes out of the hour. To read more, see our pilot study.

By Taylor Stevens and Katie Joyce

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