As a martial arts teacher, I believe wholly in the mind-body connection. I do not think it makes sense to neglect one in favor of the other, particularly where children are involved. Young bodies need play to develop social and motor skills, as well as their overall health and work ethic. However, instead of offering a more balanced approach to children’s education, most schools keep them in their chairs for the vast majority of the school day, asking even kindergarteners to do something very unnatural — sit and listen quietly — for several hours on end, day in and day out.
The government and most health experts recommend a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity per day for children and teenagers. Unfortunately, most children fall short of the recommendation, putting them at greater risk for obesity and related issues such as diabetes and general poor health.
Many schools do not offer daily physical education (P.E.) classes, in part because pressure to produce better math and reading scores on standardized tests has led them to increase time spent on these subjects and decrease time once marked for recess and P.E. Similarly, many parents are taking time traditionally spent playing outside or participating in extracurricular sports and sending their children to tutoring or accelerated learning programs instead.
Physically active children actually perform better in school, in part because they actually learn more than less active children do in the same amount of class time. Researchers have also found that overweight and obese children are at greater risk for absenteeism than healthier peers. The correlation between health and performance continues into adolescence: obese adolescents tend to have lower grade-point averages than physically active, normal-weight peers.
Teachers and parents have a responsibility to get kids moving!
Sifu Nancy Tei teaches at California Academy of Martial Arts in Burbank. Tweet her @burbankwingchun or visit http://www.kungfuwingchun.com.