PE could be the first step towards a healthy nation

Nura Arabi says that strengthening physical education instruction in UAE schools would play an essential role in building a healthier generation

The debate about the merits of physical education at school was stirred up once more in this newspaper last week. An academic told The National that intense exercise should be offered at school instead of regular PE lessons.

In many schools around the world, the requirement for PE is, it is fair to say, inconsistent. Some have physical education instruction, while others ignore PE periods altogether.

Research has shown that physical activity boosts brainpower. Physical activity helps students stay alert and perform better academically. Active bodies breed active minds is a truism, but it is one that few of us should ignore.

International health experts agree that it is vital for teens to get at least 60 minutes of medium to vigorous physical activity a day to help them develop to their best health.

Muscles and joints need to move and with that movement comes clear evidence of life-changing health benefits, such as lowering the risk of high blood pressure and the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Daily physical activity builds bone density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis, and burns calories, which is a key to keeping a healthy weight.

Physical activity can also reduce stress, anxiety and depression and it plays a central role in feeling happier about one’s body image. Health and well-being go hand in hand at school, at home, at play and on the job.

Employers are aware of the edge physical activity provides: higher productivity, better morale and a greater ability to fight stress. But the solid foundation for healthy living starts early in life. This is where the role of our physical education period in schools comes in.

Unfortunately, a study conducted by the TNS Global found that the UAE has one of the higher percentages of television viewers in the world.

Students typically spend six to eight hours in front of a screen after school. Screen time includes watching the television, a tablet or viewing video on smartphones. PE is the only time when students get to be active, learn to move and get fit during their school day.

Sedentary lifestyles are one of the most challenging public health problems. According to the World Health Organisation, physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality and accounts for six per cent of deaths worldwide.

Sedentary living also puts you at a risk for obesity and chronic diseases.

The National Association for Sports and Physical Education in America recommends that students get at least 150 minutes of physical education weekly at the primary level and 225 minutes weekly at the secondary level.

While this metric is often hard to track, there is certainly a lot of pressure on school schedules and sometimes there is limited access to equipment, space and occasionally a lack of certified PE teachers.

Barriers such as these keep physical education from playing a major role in promoting physical activity and contributing to our broader academic goals.

Parents, teachers and school members all play an important role in ensuring that students are getting access to physical education and children are getting enough physical activity.

Taking care of our physical education instruction in our schools and paying more attention to this time plays an essential role in building a healthier generation.

Nura Arabi is a physical education teacher in Abu Dhabi