physicaleducation The American Heart Association and SHAPE America released 2016 Shape of the Nation on the state of physical education in each state. While each state has a different set of standards for keeping kids active at school, here in New York we know our kids are not exercising as much as they need to stay healthy—and that can affect their hearts and minds.

Despite research that shows physical activity improves brain function and student achievement, school systems across the nation have reduced time in the gym learning critical skills and participating in physical education.

“Teaching children the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of exercise through physical education is vital to a heart-healthy life,” says Nancy Brown, American Heart Association CEO. “The research is as clear as a school bell that quality time being active also improves kids’ performance in other classes. Getting fit and fitting PE into the school day are non-negotiable.”

“We know that prevention is the best way to fight heart disease,” said Bob Elling, chair of the New York State advocacy committee of the American Heart Association. “A robust PE program is the best way to instill healthy habits in children, which they will hopefully carry throughout their lives. Daily PE is also a great way for our children to improve their immediate health.”

Shape of the Nation shows how New York is measuring up to national recommendations to keep kids physically active and healthy. The real impact of these findings will be how they influence the health and well-being of our students in ways many parents and schools do not yet realize.

 Key Findings in New York

Quantity Matters: Kids need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day and physical education should provide about half of that time in addition to teaching them lifelong skills to be active. The American Heart Association and SHAPE America recommend states require elementary students receive 150 minutes per week and middle and high school students receive 225 minutes per week of instructional physical education.

  • New York requires just 120 minutes of physical education each week – which is less than 40 minutes a day – for elementary school students.
  • New York requires just 90 minutes of physical education each week, not less than three times per week in one semester and two times per week in the other, which is less than 20 minutes a day – for middle school/junior high and high school students.

Quality Matters: A range of factors improve the quality and effectiveness of a physical education program – from training of the teacher to curriculum standards to funding– and this impacts each student’s readiness for a lifetime of fitness and heart-healthy living. National recommendations support state policies for all of these factors to ensure high-quality physical education programs are in every school.

  • New York law currently only requires certified PE teachers for secondary schools. This short-changes the quality of physical education for our youngest students.  It’s time to close that loophole.
  • New York’s physical education curriculum hasn’t been updated for decades, before many of our current students were even born.  The state’s plan must be updated more routinely.
  • An increase in dedicated funding for PE improvements is also necessary.  Many schools struggle with access to teachers and equipment.  Future capital funding can assist with disparate burden to appropriate gym and recreation space.

 Equality Matters

 Shape of the Nation provides our communities with a better understanding of what is expected of schools across our state. In addition to the measures of quantity and quality of our state program, ensuring equality is addressed in our physical education programs will benefit students’ the most. Research shows that active kids learn better, so it is important that all children participate in physical activity every day, regardless of student fitness or ability and regardless of race or gender.

Kids shouldn’t miss out on the benefits of physical education just because of their zip code. Heart disease and type 2 diabetes have a greater impact on communities of color, and longstanding racial inequities and socio-economic challenges leave many schools without the resources to provide physical education classes. The benefits of improving the school physical education curricula are realized across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, among boys and girls, elementary- and high-school students, and in urban and rural settings.

Kids shouldn’t miss out on the benefits of physical education just because of special needs either. Active kids learn better, so it is important that all children participate in physical activity every day, regardless of student fitness or ability. National recommendations include individualized plans for students with disabilities and emphasize that physical education is focused on both physical activity and health education. Limiting access to physical education for specific students has consequences in the day to day academic environment and for their long term well-being.

Shape of the Nation is supported nationally by SHAPE America and Voices for Healthy Kids, an initiative of the American Heart Association and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The American Heart Association and SHAPE New York are working to protect physical education to ensure our children get the day to day physical activity they need for strong healthy hearts and have the skills and knowledge to prevent chronic disease and be healthy adults.