“Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary because health is worth more than learning.”-Thomas JeffersonTHE DISAPPEARANCE OF FITNESS IN SCHOOL:Even in the days of the Founding Fathers, we knew the vital importance of physical activity and fitness for a healthy and productive life.In the early 1800’s, “Physical Education” was a private pursuit focused squarely on gymnastics and personal hygiene. By the middle of the century, though, Public Schools in the United States were requiring daily exercise of all students, even including calisthenics into the formal curriculum. Over the next hundred years or so, though, PE in schooling shifted away from pure physical conditioning and towards more of a sport- and game-dominated subject.Then, the press of global war forced the government to push PE back towards fitness education and physical standards (driven mostly by a need for a fit “fighting-age” population). The oft-debated “Presidential Fitness Test” was a direct result of this movement. It wasn’t perfect, but physical fitness and exercise was a priority.Economic downturns in the 70’s and 80s, though, and the subsequent budget cuts, led to a drastic decline in the presence of comprehensive PE programs in our nation’s educational institutions.These days, instead of being presented with regular activity and exercise, our students are now more sedentary than ever.In fact, the United States earned a D- in Overall Physical Activity within the recently released 2018 U.S. Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth.Research has shown a disturbing trend amongst our nation’s students with regards to activity levels:Only 6% of students get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day.Just 30% attend any sort of PE class every day. Worse, over 50% attend such a class just once a week! To make matters worse, PE has become the subject from which students claim exemption on a regular basis. From physical or cognitive disability, to participation in other school activities, like band or art class – these days there are many “acceptable” reasons for missing PE.Across the country, students are being asked to sit more, and move less.HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM.As a result of a declining commitment to PE in schools across the country, for middle and high school students, overall physical fitness rates have been in decline since the turn of the millenia. In fact:Less than half of 12 to 15 year old youth have adequate cardiorespiratory fitness levelsOnly 52% of children between 6 and 15 years old have adequate muscular endurance, based on the number of pull-ups performedOf High School-aged students, just 5.3% of boys and 12.1% are in the “excellent” Health Benefit Zone for grip strength.To make matters worse, this drop in physical fitness can lead to all sorts of harmful situations down the road as kids age. As kids graduate and move on with their lives, they are at greater risk for all of the following:High Blood Pressure & CholesterolCardiovascular DiseaseImpaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.Asthma & Sleep ApneaLow Bone Density & Joint ProblemsWhat’s more, happiness, stress-level, and academic achievement are also all at risk when physical activity and fitness are not made a priority within educations.In fact, hundreds of studies have come out in just the last few years, all illuminating a direct positive connection between formal physical education programs and improved academic achievement and happiness. Fitness Education, it seems, may just be the secret sauce for effective education!LEARN BETTERAccording to researchers, regular, structured physical activity directly affects the brain’s physiology in such a way that improves education and learning.Exercise, and the associated increase in blood flow and oxygenation in the brain leads to the development of cerebral capillaries, the production of neurotrophins, the growth of nerve cells, and the overall improvement of the brain’s neural network. Your brain, itself, will grow in size.As a direct result of this cerebral activity, this “brain exercise,” their lies a proven positive association to academic achievement.In Naperville, Illinois, math and reading scores shot through the roof when PE was mandated and placed at the beginning of every school day.Frankly put, regular exercise creates better learners.Regular physical activity, and its effect on students’ brains and biochemistry leads to improved execution functioning and cognition. Students concentrate better, have better memory, and can process, store, and retrieve information more effectively. Perhaps most importantly, though, there has been shown to be absolutely NO downside to spending more time in PE and less in other subjects:“The studies also suggest that increased time spent in physical education is not likely to detract from academic performance even when less time is devoted to subjects other than physical education.”When push comes to shove, spending more time in structured PE is proven to be an effective way of creating better learners and higher achieving students.FEEL BETTERWhile standardized test scores and academic achievement are important, the positive emotional effects of fitness education may be even more important.As reported by the APA in 2018, depression and anxiety are affecting our teens worse than any other age group. Intense schedules, social pressures, and rising academic/athletic/personal expectations have taken their toll on our youth. Today’s generation of students and young adults are more stressed than ever before.Luckily, an investment in activity and physical education can pay dividends here, as well as exercise has been shown to:elevate moodpositively influence depression and anxietyreduce psychosocial stressenhance various aspects of self-esteem.Additionally, school & classroom behavior appears to be radically improved as well.Studies have continuously found associations between PE and impulse control, attention, attitude, and task-based behavior amongst students throughout their school day.Schools that enhanced the presence of Physical Education and school-sanctioned physical activity have experienced less educational “disruption” in general. In fact, there exists a strong correlation between high physical fitness achievement and a concurrent improvement in attendance and decrease in disciplinary incidents. In a generation full of behavior disorder diagnoses, and medicated kids, this goes even farther. Parents and teachers of children with ADHD reported markedly improved behavior following structured physical activity. Long story short, kids who are engaged in regular physical fitness programs have more positive moods, better classroom behavior, and feel less stress.GET UP & MOVE!If we want our kids to be successful students, healthy kids, and happy people, then we must look at the role and presence of fitness and activity in their daily lives.When push comes to shove, we owe it to our kids (and ourselves) to place a greater emphasis on PE within their overall education. The research is clear, it will help them live healthier lives, perform better in school, and experience greater emotional happiness.Teaching and learning lifetime fitness is a noble pursuit.