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Should Teens Have to Take Gym Every Day?

Experts agree that staying fit is important—especially for teens. But does that mean schools should increase requirements for physical education?

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There’s no doubt about it: Exercise is critical for young people. It’s key to strengthening both bodies and minds, which are still developing throughout the teen years. Health experts say kids ages 6 to 17 need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every single day. Yet research shows that most middle and high school students are falling far short of that goal.

One reason, some people say, is that many schools have cut back on physical education (PE) to increase in-class learning time or to save money—or both. Though PE used to be a daily requirement in many schools, teens today often attend gym class just once a week, if at all.

Hoping to improve kids’ health, many people have begun calling for schools to beef up their PE requirements. Getting students more physically active, they say, would go a long way toward combating the rising rates of obesity, stress, and related illnesses among today’s teens.

But others say increasing physical education requirements isn’t likely to fix those problems. They argue that kids don’t actually get much exercise in gym class. Plus, they say, many schools are already struggling to help students fulfill academic require­ments—which leaves little time for PE.

Step It Up!

Fans of gym class point out that teens who exercise regularly are healthier than those who don’t. And studies show that physically active students focus better in class and are less likely to get stressed out, so they tend to get better grades. Making gym a standard part of the school day could help every student get such benefits, not just those who play sports or exercise on their own, supporters say.

Plus, PE is about more than just exercise. It also helps students develop important social skills—such as teamwork and following directions.

Gym class helps teens stay healthy, beat stress, and do better in school.

Carrie Tananbaum, 14, of Westfield, New Jersey, thinks schools should require kids to take gym on a regular basis. “We do need exercise even if we don’t want it,” she says.

Besides, she adds, many kids enjoy gym. It’s one of the few times during the school day when they can escape the pressures of course­work and test prep. PE class gives students a well-deserved break where they can move around, make noise, and blow off steam. That can help them be more alert in their other classes.

SOURCES: SHAPE America; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Not the Best Move

Health experts agree that young people should be physically active every day—but not all of them think requiring daily PE is the solution.

A few years ago, Texas lawmakers made it mandatory for middle schoolers to take gym daily. But instead of seeing improvements in students’ health and academic achievement, they found higher rates of teens skipping school to avoid PE. Texas eventually dropped the requirement.

For some teens, gym can increase their anxiety. For example, Vyshnavi Viju, 15, used to go to a school where daily PE was mandatory. The class included a weekly one-mile run, and kids’ grades were based on how quickly they got around the track.

Students spend much of gym class just standing around—not exercising.

“A lot of people would fail because they weren’t fast enough, no matter how hard they tried,” says the Atlanta, Georgia, teen. “It would really decrease their self-confidence.”

Another reason not to increase PE requirements, say critics, is that gym doesn’t always add much exercise to a teen’s day. One study found that in a 45-minute gym period, high school students were physically active for an average of just 16 minutes. People opposed to daily gym classes say the time students would spend standing around or changing clothes would be better spent on core subjects, such as social studies, English, or math.

Think It Over

Consider the pros and cons of gym class. Then ask yourself: Should schools require teens to take it every day? Or are there other, more effective ways to help students make physical activity part of their daily routine? 

Write About It! What do you think? Should teens have to take gym every day? Write an essay that argues your opinion. Include evidence from the article and your own experiences.

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