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School Physical Education Classes Improve Children's Fitness


New research based on a UK physical activity program has found that structured school physical education class can improve children’s fitness and decrease body fat.

Researchers in Switzerland studied 540 seven and eleven year olds in 15 elementary schools. Just over half of the students were assigned to an interventional group that included an additional two lessons a week in addition to their regular three-times-a-week physical education classes. They were also given daily short activity breaks and physical activity homework consisting of activity lasting about 10 minutes. The control group continued with the existing level of physical activity in their regular class schedule.

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In addition to weight (BMI), body fat, and aerobic fitness, the children were also assessed for quality of life based on the results of a questionnaire and cardiovascular risk based on blood pressure, blood glucose, and cholesterol levels. The children were studied over a period of nine months, beginning in August 2005 and lasting until June 2006.

Most of the children experienced either a reduction in BMI and body fat or a slower increase. Physical fitness improved, based on the increase in the ability of the children to complete a shuttle run. Cardiovascular risk factors were reduced. The only factor to remain unchanged was quality of life, however 90% of the children enjoyed the additional classes and wished for them to continue.

According to the background information presented in the study, one in three to five children in the Western world is overweight or obese. The decrease in physical activity over the past decades is one of the main causes of the trend. Because obesity, cardiac risk factors, and behavioral habits continue into adulthood, early intervention is recommended for long term benefits.

Some of the previous studies on school-based interventions that promote a healthy lifestyle have shown disappointing results which, in addition to public schools’ need to decrease resources because of financial restraints, have led to the reduction or elimination of physical education classes in many schools.