Fit Body for Fit Mind

Intuitively, this is something I’ve long suspected, but here’s some interesting evidence that appears to clearly point to fairly immediate benefits for children who are physically fit in their academics, especially if engaging regularly in aerobic activity.

New York Times article on Physical Education

Teachers have long known that if children have had a PE class, provided they are not overly hot, sweaty etc. then they are able to concentrate, focus and maintain calm classroom behaviour.

To me, there’s a potentially bigger aspect and that is when you look at the long term ‘whole life’ aspects – a physically active child who enjoys aerobic activity is more likely to remain physically active as they grow up. The general state of their physical well-being will keep their body in good shape far longer in their life. As I have often been fond of sharing with parents and teachers – there’s not much point us assisting children to develop great minds, if the body it’s carried around in starts to fail at age 35.

For schools in Indian metro cities there is a big challenge. land costs are so high and the size of plots allocated for schools so relatively modest that, if all children remained as physically active as they should throughout their entire school life, we don’t actually have enough space. Unfortunately, what tends to happen is that the children associate physical exercise with sport (and that mainly competitive sport). Then, around 10-11 years of age the children start to get thought processes happening that suggest that they’re probably not going to ‘make the team’ in the major sports. The result – they figure that if they’re not going to make the team then there’s not much point pursuing it. Sadly, these messages get reinforced by media and parents – sports are a way to have a career that pays lots of money! Then, combine the peer pressure, the inclination to put the ‘jocks’ on a pedestal and it all adds up to a large proportion of early teen kids ‘opting out’ of something because they don’t see it serving a purpose. This also includes all those children for whom ‘competitive’ activities just don’t feel completely comfortable.

In UK when I was in school there wasn’t ‘a school team’. For each sport there was an Under-11, under-12, under-13, under-14, under-15, second team and first team. The result was that lots of children got to be part of a team, practiced to try to move up the teams and got plenty of aerobic activity in the process. This relied on acceptance of three key facts;
a) All teachers were expected to get involved in activities beyond their academic specialisation. A Physics teacher can learn the rudiments of football enough to blow a whistle and coach 12 year olds ! (My rugby coach was also my history teacher, my athletics coach taught chemistry!). You keep your specialist coaches for the elite teams)
b) Sport and physical exercise are engaged in for their own sake – not because it’s meant to lead to something else.
c) Time spent on physical exercise is not ‘wasted’ time or a distraction from what we should really be doing

Three priority issues I believe we need to address in schools here in India;
a) Accepting that each school can’t afford to keep big enough physical space, find innovative ways to get access to space; e.g schools sharing land and facilities. One might have a 400 metre running track, another a full sized soccer pitch, another a cricket field. Sharing facilities with organisations like the police.
b) Decent and adequate changing facilities – the immediate benefits of physical exercise get lost pretty quickly when a bunch of 14 year olds go straight from the games field to the classroom without showering or even changing clothes (it’s also a pretty big olfactory challenge for the teacher!!)
c) Resist the urge to get heavily in to playing ‘sport’ too early and too young, rather focusing at primary school levels on physical fitness, stamina, balance and body flexibility/ suppleness.

There’s a long road ahead, but we owe it to our children to walk that road. As educators we must acknowledge that just working with the child’s mind means we haven’t done ‘the whole job’.


2 Responses

  1. I am so delighted to read about ‘Fit body for fit mind’.It is so true and much of the restlessness in our students will be addressed it every teacher decides to be partial Pe teacher.Beisdes,the teacher and the students will end up being much happier and more receptive to one another…………

  2. Agree and I have seen this practice of PE teacher is more prevalent in one particular state in India, which is, Punjab.

    Is there a correlation between state producing good athletes and PE education culture in govt and private schools in the state?


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