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Improve health, test scores and more with gym class

6 benefits of physical education

6 benefits of physical education

Gym class and recreational sports are more than just a way to blow off steam. Hudson Valley coaches, parents and physical fitness experts sound off about the importance of physical education classes. Could kids learn valuable life lessons in gym that will determine how successful they will become in the future?

Exercise the body, develop physical literacy
One of the most obvious benefits of school gym class is the aspect of physical fitness, but physical education is more than just exercising the body.

"Physical education helps our children to develop physical literacy," explains Susan Riordan, a Hudson Valley mom, physical therapist and certified athletic trainer. "Physical literacy is the ability to move with confidence and desire. Kids need to learn how to run, balance, hop, skip, jump, fall, swim, throw and more. Many of these activities also develop motor planning, bone density, and strength."

For some kids, gym class is the only physical fitness they get throughout the week, making ita vital part of their health and development.

"Physical education classes help provide a consistent exercise program, especially for those students that may not engage in any programs outside of the school day," says Christine Stasaitis, a Lagrange mom of four and certified CrossfitKids and Teens coach in Dutchess County. "With approximately one-third of American children being overweight and fewer than 25% getting the recommended 60 minutes of moderate physical activity each day, it is more important than ever for your child to take part in a consistent fitness program."

READ MORE: 7 healthy habits for fall fitness

More than just physical fitness
Aside from physical fitness, gym class provides kids the opportunity to build upon essential socialization and life skills for succeeding in the world after school.

"Physical education and playing sports outside of school teaches kids to work as a team, to win and lose graciously, how to cooperate, follow rules and work on self-control and confidence," explains Riordan. "Sports teaches us to strive to do our individual best."

Stasaitis says, "Children and teens learn to develop leadership skills, how to manage their emotions, achieve goals, the importance of hard work, how to lose with dignity, discipline, self-responsibility, and most importantly, that life isn't always fair."

Where academic work is mostly independent, physical education allows kids to work together towards goals and develop a deeper understanding of how to accept and provide peer support.

"Sports provide a fun way to exercise and use as an outlet for feelings of anger or sadness," says Dawnmarie Nasi, a Wappingers Falls mom and special education teacher in Dutchess County. "Socialization is a very important time to have each athlete talk to each other, help each other and support each other as we learn the needed skills to play the game."

Break up the “sit and learn” routine
The typical "sit and learn" routine can be mentally exhausting for kids, often times putting more stress on the brain with less favorable outcomes. Sitting confined at a desk all day may not be the most conducive way to get kids to learn.

"Many children learn through multi-sensory techniques," explains Riordan. "Kinesthetic awareness and movement are a major factor in this."  

"The body as a whole needs to be addressed during childhood development," says Desire Mingst, a Fishkill mom of two with an associate's degree in exercise science and a bachelor's degree in physical education. "We tend to have our schools focus on academics, yet studies have proven that both structured and unstructured physical activity aids in a healthy development."

"Greater rates of activity in children have proven to lead to higher test scores and increased cognitive development," explains Stasaitis. With four children currently enrolled in the Arlington school district, Stasaitis finds the two to three days of gym per week falls short of promoting positive learning behaviors. "I don't believe that is nearly enough, especially when the majority of the remainder of the school day is spent sitting behind a desk."

READ MORE: Tips for family fitness

Step away from the screen
Since kids spend so much of their time using some sort of technology, gym class can be a great avenue to spark interest in physical activities outside of school that could distract kids from their screens.

"Children today spend more time in front of TVs, tablets, and phones and less engaged in activities that support their overall health and fitness," says Stasaitis, referring to her experience with students as a coach. "A consistent fitness routine will improve a child's well-being in countless aspects of his life."

READ MORE: 17 screen-free activities

Eliminate the competition
For parents of kids who are not sports lovers, there's no need to be alarmed. There are plenty of lessons to be learned from physical education that are not geared towards competition.

"For a child who does not enjoy physical activity, I would encourage finding something they like such as walking, swimming, bike riding, hula hoop, hopscotch, tag or rolling in the grass," suggests Riordan. "Physical movement and activity are imperative to a healthy life. It does not have to be at a competitive level."

"Not every child is going to participate in competitive sports, but children are not inherently sedentary," says Mingst, referring to her thirty years of coaching experience with children and teens. "Get out with the whole family to enjoy time together doing something active!"

Reach out to your community
If your child has more interest in physical activity outside of gym class...go with it! Contact local parks and recreation or visit your town's website to see what types of activities and sports are available in your area.

"Important life lessons that cannot be taught in a classroom can be nurtured and taught on the sports field or in a fitness class," insists Stasaitis. "Our ultimate goal is to help children and teens of all ages and backgrounds create a positive association with exercise and fitness."

Michelle Peterson is a freelance writer living in Poughkeepsie with her spouse and two sons.