Physical education at the college level: Are undergrads exercising enough?

Calhan, Colorado high school physical educatio...Obesity is a much-discussed problem in America. Quite a bit of that talk has centered on the problem in adults and children, but what about for college students? They too are struggling with their weight. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5.2 million college students are obese. Contributing to the problem is the drop in physical education requirements at the college level. The benefits of exercising are well-known at this point, but educational institutions are cutting physical education from their curriculum. How can undergrads expand their minds and not their waistlines?

Exercise recommendations

The concern about obesity and exercise starts as early as elementary school. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends 150 minutes of exercise a week for elementary-age kids and 225 minutes of physical education for middle and high school students. Unfortunately, only 30 percent of high school students meet that goal, and the figure is less than 20 percent for the grammar school set. It is no wonder that child obesity rates have doubled since 1980.

A study conducted by Brad Cardinal, a professor of exercise and sport science at Oregon State University, addresses this concern at the college level in “Study: Physical education at college level is in bad shape” by Jack Kelly, posted on February 25, 2013, for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about Cardinal’s conclusions. “In 1920, 97 percent of college students were required to take physical education, the study found. Today, only 39 percent are,” Kelly reports.

The changes for colleges in terms of physical education requirements have developed as a result of a relaxing of academic requirements that started in the 1980s. Money has influenced the cuts in K-12 schools. But as Cardinal shares, saving money by cutting kids’ physical education may be worse for the bottom line in the long term. “Medical expenses related to obesity are expected to cost $344 billion by 2018,” Cardinal shared.

Ready, set, sweat

College actually offers a lot of opportunities for physical activity, from the on-campus gym to simply walking to class. The website kidshealth.org suggests some ways to incorporate more activity in “Getting Exercise in College”:

  • Bike or walk to class, the library or the store.
  • Park farther away than you normally would and walk.
  • Choose the dining hall on the far side of campus.
  • Try stretching, marching in place or walking around during study breaks.
  • Take the stairs.

If you do opt for the campus gym, try to search out options that make exercising fun. If you like an activity, you are more likely to want to keep doing it. Another great way to make exercise a regular part of your college life is to include a friend in your workouts. Not only will involving another person make you more accountable, it will also up the fun quotient of your exercise time.

Don’t forget, even if you aren’t a super athlete, colleges offer a range of intramural and club sports that you can join in on for a little physical activity, as well as some social interaction.

Need more reasons?

Still not convinced that an important part of your college experience includes physical education? How about if you knew that studies have shown that exercising can make you smarter? Laura Schwecherl blogs in “Can Exercise Make Us Smarter?” for Greatist.com that “In two experiments with college students, acute and high-impact cardio exercise was linked to increased vocabulary, learning and reaction time.”

The question still remains as to exactly how much time you need to spend on physical education as a college student to get the best mental results. However, the odds are in your favor that any amount of exercising will help boost your energy levels and focus, all of which can’t hurt when it comes time to hit the books.

Want to learn more about the importance of physical education or how you can add more exercise into your daily college life? Check out Questia and the Health and Medicine topic page in the library for even more information.

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