Kids in China Need More Exercise, and Here’s Why.

General Administration of Sports of China conducted a survey on exercise among people between the age of 9 to 69 living in both urban and rural areas. The survey collected 90,929 valid responses. Below are a few findings related to kids and teenagers between 9 to 16.

  1. 90% said that they like physical education, or exercise in general.

“It’s fun” ranks as the number 1 reason and “learning a skill in sports” follows. Among kids who said they don’t like exercise, “too hot, too cold, too tired” is the most popular reason quoted.

2. Children need to increase their exercise intensity.

The Administration established a standard of exercise “Three times a week, 30 minutes each time with moderate to high intensity exercise”. Among children who exercise outside of school, only 28.6% met this requirement. 38.5% of children only reported low intensity exercise. As a side note, CDC’s guideline for kids is “60 mins moderate exercise per day.”

3. Children’s Exercise outside of Campus is Unguided.

78.1% of children said they didn’t have any guidance when doing exercise outside campus. Most of them choose to exercise in public gyms or community center where little professional direction is provided.

To change all these and improve children’s physical performance, a couple things need to be addressed.

First of all, change mindset that exercise is not as important as academic. When I was in school, physical education, along with arts, crafts, music, etc are commonly known as “Ancillary Subjects”, compared to math, science, Chinese, which are called the “Main Subjects”. Ancillary subjects are usually reduced, cut short, or completely eliminated to make more time for main subjects, especially in higher grades when students are getting close to the National Examination (Gao Kao). This mindset has to be changed. Students should be educated on the importance of physical exercise, not only for their physical health, but their mental and psychological benefit as well. I find myself very motivated and focused after a good workout. A false misconception might be that exercise takes up time, thus it’s a conflict with students’ academic performance. I would argue this is not true. Study has shown that regular exercise can improve memory and thinking skills. I think a good strategy is linking exercise’s benefits with academic performance, which might help change educators and parents’ mindset about exercise in general.

Second, lots of schools reduce the physical activities in PE class in fear of students getting injured and the school blamed for not supervising properly. A couple incidents occurred where students get hurt on campus while participating in PE class. Parents blame the school for providing inappropriate supervision and the school ended up settling the matter outside court. In light of these events, PE teachers are hesitant in organizing any activities that involve even moderate intensity exercise. PE class ended up like a joke – students either don’t exercise at all, or they kind of low intensity exercise that don’t even get their heart rate up. But the chances are, the less exercise there is, the more likely kids might get hurt doing any, especially when they’re outside classroom unsupervised. The above survey shows that most kids exercise outside campus with no professional guidance. If they’re not equipped with basic exercise knowledge and skills from their PE teacher, their chances of getting hurt is even larger on themselves. This, too need to change.

Finally, exercise’s benefits surpass purely physical, it’s about making friends and improve social skills. I was talking to my colleague the other day and she told me she will be taking her 18 months old son to soccer practice on Sunday. “Soccer class? Does he know how to play soccer?” I asked in astonishment. My question was off the point. “I think most parents send their kids to sports more for socializing purpose.” my colleague patiently explained. Many group sports, for instance soccer, are team sports. Kids will be practicing with other kids, actively listen to instructions from the coach. If they have the opportunity to go on a tour, they will even potentially be interviewed by journalists. My other colleague’s son recently went on a cross country tour for baseball and he was in New York Times! We watched the interview and her son was absolutely great with cameras and spoke very eloquently. All these skills can be cultivated through group activities. Parents and educators should be aware of this benefits that’s often time overlooked.

We have a long way to go, and the first step is raising the awareness of benefits associated with regular exercise.

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