Archive for the ‘SPARK Blog’ Category

Does Evidence-Based PE Matter? Part 2: Why is Evidence-Based PE Significant?

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016


Author: Dr. Kymm Ballard, SPARK Executive Director

Click here to read Part 1 of this blog series on Evidence-Based Physical Education.

Suggested criteria for prioritizing physical education research-based programs:

You might begin by asking yourself: What is its relevance to the field? Will it help advance and improve the field of physical education?

SPARK was and is a program that links effective and proven physical education pedagogy and concern for rising childhood obesity. One of the goals of the original studies was to determine that if the SPARK approach increased MVPA, could teachers still effectively instruct physical education so their students successfully gained the skills, concepts, and confidence needed in a quality PE program? This was proven to be true along with increases in students’ motor and sports skills, fitness, MVPA, academic achievement, enjoyment of PE, as well as the quality of teacher instruction (i.e., less time managing, more time promoting fitness, teaching physical skills, etc.). SPARK evidence helped advance and improve the field of physical education.

Furthermore, it has since been examined with in a variety of settings and populations, including variances in race, gender, and poverty, and shown to be adaptable and effective. And for NC, a State that has some of the highest obesity rates among children, SPARK was an excellent fit. For more on various relevant research click here:

Is it important to school, community, parents, field in general? Is it important to the student outcomes?

In NC, we felt the State’s physical educators needed resources aligned to what were the NASPE standards, although there were no national grade level outcomes at the time. However, SPARK did show how their lessons could be used as a resource to align to our state standards and outcomes (objectives), which provided that critical link. It was important to the community who funded the project and the field in general having approximately 97% of the school districts wanting to be trained in SPARK PE. Our state had high levels of childhood obesity so it was important that we not only teach effective PE but address the public health concern of obesity via increased PA and nutrition education. SPARK helped us with all this and more.

Does it align or assist in national priorities (i.e., National PA Plan, Lets Move Active Schools, Whole Child, Whole School, Whole Community, etc.)?

At our time of exploring curricula and resources for the teachers in NC, national initiatives were just coming on the scene. However, the alignment today is amazing. It was aligned to the CSHP, PECAT, and National PA Plan, which helped to lift NC’s foundational platform. Now, our physical educators had a common ground to teach from, then add their own good ideas, and accelerate their professional growth. It was then up to each district and teacher to set goals to improve their programs, their content selection, and their instructional strategies over time.

Today, SPARK partners with all the groups mentioned above, investing and/or participating together on Hill events, meetings, or sponsorships. The relationships continue to grow because it is extremely important that SPARK continues to align with national priorities. One of SPARK’s many strengths is the reach it has to grassroots teachers. Through SPARK, we are able to execute many of the action steps from awareness to implementation of these national priorities, and in turn, help improve the quantity and quality of physical education for children and teachers everywhere.

Check back next week for the conclusion of this 3-part blog series!

* Criteria adapted from Chalkidou, K., Walley, T.,Culyer, A., Littlejohns, P., Hoy, A; Evidence-informed evidence-making; Health Serv Res Policy July 2008 vol. 13 no. 3 167-173.

Does Evidence-Based PE Matter? Part 1: What Constitutes Evidence-Based PE?

Thursday, June 16th, 2016


Author: Dr. Kymm Ballard, SPARK Executive Director

The term “evidence-based” is used frequently in education and, fortunately for all of us, is directly applicable to physical education (PE) as well. The team at SPARK feels that a program can claim it is evidence-based only if there is data demonstrating positive results on students and/or teachers linked to relevant outcomes (i.e., activity levels, fitness, skill development, etc.) and if those outcomes have been published in a peer-reviewed journal. Additionally, it is important that other content experts/organizations (i.e., CDC, N.I.H., National Cancer Institute, etc.) agree with the findings and support the group’s claim(s).

There is also the revelation of a fairly new term “evidence-informed” which sometimes gets confused with evidence-based. As a profession, we need to ask the questions and understand that all research is important. So how do the findings apply to your school and student needs?

We can all find lesson plans from free websites and books, but we should ask ourselves “Is this lesson evidence-based?” The lesson may implement a standard and reach an outcome. If this is the extent of what you want your program to be, there are many lessons to choose from. What makes SPARK so unique, different, and evidence-based, is if you implement the lesson after being trained in the methodology, you will not only implement a standard and outcome, increase the physical activity time a child is active during the day, and help to obtain national recommendations for children to be active, but you are replicating something that has been proven to work.

With a direct link to research, a teacher knows she/he has aligned his/her curriculum choices with public health recommendations that address childhood obesity. SPARK is more than an effective PE program; it is a marriage of quality, SHAPE America Standards-Based PE and public health recommendations, and this makes it the most evidence-based program available in the U.S.

I was a Consultant for the Dept. of Education in North Carolina (NC) for 11.5 years. While serving in this capacity, I wanted to provide my physical educators in NC a foundational framework leading to excellent curriculum and resources for implementation. I saw too many times that my teachers had to start from scratch, basically trying to write their own lessons, on curriculum revisions where Math, Science, and others were reviewing updated texts, assessments, and supplemental materials. Some of the lessons were good, some were not, but it was all they had. I wanted them to have a solid base as a foundation for them to start from, and build their house of curriculum from there. Unfortunately, as a State employee, it was not feasible for me to provide a “statewide” curriculum. Luckily, our partners NCAAHPERD received funding from several sources which were able to help establish this groundbreaking effort (see success story here). In deciding what to do to support NC physical educators, some areas of importance surfaced.

Check back next week for Part 2 of this 3-part blog series!

Quidditch – Should You Embrace the Global Craze?

Friday, June 3rd, 2016


Many real-life events inspire works of fiction, but now and then, fiction inspires real life. Quidditch, the flying broomstick sport made popular in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series of books, is now played outside of those pages (with a few adaptations for non-wizards). Of course, players are limited by the constraints of gravity and must avoid the signature bludger instruments made famous in the bloody matches in the book; the basics of Quidditch are happening globally though, on the ground and in safe ways.

The Guardian reports that in the past decade, Muggle Quidditch (or Quidditch for people who are not actually wizards) has ignited fans worldwide. The game is played on six continents, in 20 countries, and at more than 1,200 schools. There are also college-level and adult leagues for the sport. The appeal of the game is multi-faceted and is not dependent on having knowledge of the book series that made it famous. Kids and adults at all fitness levels can participate together in Quidditch in some way, thanks to its variation of player roles.

The Basics of Muggle Quidditch

There are seven players on each team, just like the book version. Those players are divided up like this:

  • Three chasers on each team – players who carry or pass the ball on the way to the goal.
  • Two beaters on each team – players who throw dodge balls at opposing players to disqualify them from the field for a specified time period.
  • One keeper on each team – a goalie, basically.
  • One snitch runner, not assigned to a team – a player who tucks the snitch (in this version, a tennis ball in a sock) in his or her shorts, and who is not required to ride a broomstick.
  • One seeker on each team – a player that hunts the snitch runner and tries to steal the snitch.

Throughout the game, points are earned on both teams when goal hoops are made (10 points per goal). The game ends when a seeker catches the snitch runner, and successfully steals the snitch. The team of the victorious seeker earns 30 points. The winning team is the one with the most points at the end of the game.

The game is complex and calls on a lot of different skill sets, making it ideal for large group fitness sessions. Speed and strength must combine with strategy for a win, making it a more inclusive game than some traditional physical education class options.

Quidditch is Adaptable

Students are so excited by Muggle Quidditch that it’s popping up in physical education curriculum all over the country. The Harry Potter series inspires the game, of course, but students and teachers can adapt the way it’s played based on creativity, and the equipment and resources available to them.

Muggle – or Earthbound – Quidditch is scalable based on the age of the participants, too. Younger kids can play it without broomsticks, for example, while middle and high schoolers can add that level of difficulty. Even kids who have decided they are “too old” for Harry Potter can get excited about the physicality of Quidditch. It’s a fun and challenging approach to physical education – giving Quidditch wide appeal.

More Than Just a Game

Since posting the rules for her “Earthbound Quidditch” game on a health and physical education site in 2001, Ohio P.E. teacher Jodi Palmer says the page has seen nearly 60,000 views. In an interview with, Palmer says that some teachers are intimidated at first by the rules and complexity of Quidditch on paper, but that once kids actually get up and moving, it all comes together.

The unusual nature of the sport makes it interesting to kids from many different backgrounds, often bringing together players who don’t have much in common off the field. Being part of a team in a game that’s unabashedly out of the ordinary can instill confidence in children, and help them to feel more comfortable in their own skin. The basis in Harry Potter attracts many book-lovers, including kids who may not otherwise take part in athletics. On the flip side, the physical challenge of the sport is appealing to active children and can become a gateway for kids previously uninterested in reading to get excited about the book series. As Harrison Homel, executive director of the International Quidditch Association, explained, “It turns readers into athletes, and athletes into readers.” The magic of Quidditch in real life is the way that it brings players together to share in a fun and unique experience; it’s not held to any preconceptions our society may hold about more traditional sports.

Ready to give the down-to-earth version of Quidditch a shot in your P.E. class? Visit the International Quidditch Association website to download rules, safety guidelines, and tips for getting kids excited about participating.

4 Ways to Keep Girls Interested in Sports

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

girls in sports

Participation in sports for kids leads to long-term life benefits like higher goal achievement, improved self-esteem, lower rates of stress and depression, and fewer behavioral problems. For girls, though, those perks are harder to come by. By the time girls are 14 years old they are dropping out of sports at a rate four times higher than boys.

Sports are clearly valuable to young women as they grow up, but somewhere along the way, sports drop off the priority list. So how can adults foster excitement around sports participation that lasts beyond middle school?

1. Increase Equity

The Women’s Sports Foundation reports that girls possess 1.3 million less opportunities to participate in high school sports than boys. It’s important for educators to give girls the same amount of time for physical activities – from recess to sports practices – as boys. Have them practice in the same facilities and on the same fields. Spend just as much money on new uniforms and equipment for the girls as is spent for young men when it comes to sports. Give girls equal space, time, funding, and resources – because they deserve it for their athletic pursuits.

2. Let Kids Act Like Kids

It’s easy for parents and coaches to get wrapped up in the outcomes of kids’ sports. It makes sense – after all, both are invested in their kids, and they attend just as many practices and games as their sports-playing children. When winning becomes the only thing that matters to the adults at the practices and games, kids tend to lose their passion and drive. This is true for both boys and girls. If parents and coaches truly want to see kids find their own love for the sports they play, they need to ease up on the pressure, and empower kids to practice, play, and win – or lose – like kids.

3. Prioritize Fitness

Unhealthy body image is a longstanding issue for young women. Research shows that self-esteem for young women peaks at the age of nine, and more than 90% of young women ages 15 to 17 want to change something about their physical appearance. Sports help girls develop a healthy idea of what it means to live an active lifestyle that focuses less on looks and more on strength. Research has found that female athletes in high school retain a more positive body image than their non-athlete peers. As girls start to pursue less active interests, encourage them to stay involved in sports and fitness. Get outside and go for runs with them. Show them, in leading by example, that it takes habit development and consistency to stay fit and active. Let girls know that active pursuits last a lifetime and aren’t something you outgrow.

4. Keep Showing Up

This is an important note for parents, educators, and other supportive adults a child’s life – don’t stop attending practices or games when girls get old enough to participate without you there, or even when they ask you to stop coming. Let them know that their sports participation still matters to you, and has a spot in your schedule. Make a big deal when her team advances, or she makes the game-winning shot. She may not ever thank you for showing up and cheering her on, but she notices; and she won’t stay interested in sports for very long if you are no longer sitting in the stands.

Encouraging young women to keep playing sports takes a conscious effort on the part of parents, coaches, and teachers. By setting an active example, empowering them to participate, and making sports participation a priority on your own schedule, girls will have a better shot at staying involved in the sports they love well into their teenage years – and maybe even beyond.

50 Activation Grant Winners Announced

Thursday, May 26th, 2016


Sportime featuring SPARK Announces 50 Activation Grant Winners

May 26, 2016

San Diego, CA – In celebration of Sportime’s 50th anniversary and in partnership with Let’s Move! Active Schools, Sportime featuring SPARK is proud to announce (50) Activation Grant awards to schools nationwide to help students get active before, during, and after school.

Let’s Move! Active Schools is part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative dedicated to ensuring 60 minutes of physical activity a day is the norm in K-12 schools. The initiative is powered by a national collaborative of 35 health, education and private sector organizations that work together through the collective impact framework to help schools create Active School environments for children.

The 50 grant recipients were selected out of more than 500 applications that were received from schools across the country. Applications were submitted by Physical Education Teachers, Health Teachers, Classroom Teachers, Wellness Coordinators, Principals, PTA Members, and other members of the school community.

Applicants expressed the need for physical education curriculum – many teachers do not have any curricular materials for physical education and have to create their own lesson plans and assessments – as well as a variety of equipment to help engage large class sizes, include students with special needs, and to introduce lifelong activities other than traditional sports. Applicants also aimed to increase activity throughout the school day by integrating physical activity into classrooms and before/after school programs.

“We are very proud to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Sportime this year by giving back to schools in need of materials and tools for developing their physical activity and wellness programs,” stated Dr. Kymm Ballard, Executive Director of SPARK. “Through our strategic partnership with Let’s Move! Active Schools, we are providing innovative resources including evidence-based curriculum, teacher training and equipment to help students maximize their activity not just during school but also before and after school, enabling them to build all-round healthy lifestyles that can be carried into adulthood. We congratulate all the grant winners and look forward to their programs being a success!”

Grant applications were accepted April 1- April 30, 2016 and K-12 schools in the United States were eligible to apply. As a requirement of the grant, schools must be enrolled with Let’s Move! Active Schools and have completed the school assessment by the application deadline.

The 50 awarded schools will receive a grade-level specific SPARK Curriculum set that includes the SPARK manual, music CD, and 3-year access to  Each SPARK program is research-based and provides hundreds of lesson plans aligned to state and national physical education standards, assessments, task and skill cards in English and Spanish, videos, dances, and more.  The awarded schools will also receive a $100 voucher to purchase physical activity equipment from Sportime.

Congratulations to the grant winners!

The 50 Awarded Schools are:


To learn more about Let’s Move! Active Schools, visit 

To search for other grant opportunities, view the SPARK Grant-Finder Tool.

Can a Healthier Lifestyle Promote Good Character in Kids?

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016


The early years make up an important developmental phase in any person’s life. Up to the age of 18, we’re constantly learning new habits, information, and behaviors – while establishing foundations that will shape our experiences as an adult. In short, childhood represents both opportunity and vulnerability when it comes to promoting a healthier lifestyle.

For a child to thrive, they need support and stimulation both at home, and in school. Because a healthy lifestyle demands physical activity, child care programs and schools that reduce recess and physical education for children could be damaging their development – stunting their emotional and physical growth. Studies have already begun to prove the link between exercise and intelligence, cognition, character development and emotional stability, showing that play is a huge part of the early developmental phase.

Physical Activity Promotes Healthier Characteristics

According to the U.S. Department of Health, children should get no less than one hour of physical activity a day in order to fight back against skyrocketing public issues like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. However, physical benefits are not the only reason behind a child’s need for regular exercise. Numerous studies continue to show a positive correlation between the physical activity level of children, and his or her mental development. Active play gives children an opportunity to explore creativity, while developing their minds, and emotional as well as physical strength.

When children have the chance to participate in organized sports or physical education classes, the basic values they learned during the earliest developmental periods become further emphasized including the values of sharing, working together, and respect. Through participation in physical education, young people learn key values to carry with them throughout their lives, such as:

  • Adherence to rules
  • Respect for themselves and others
  • How to engage in fair play
  • Working as a team
  • Honesty

Physical education also provides a platform that allows young people to learn how to manage competition and cope with winning or losing.

A Healthy Lifestyle Links with Academics

Aside from the social skills that children learn through physical activity, regular exercise benefits a child’s brain in a number of ways, from improved memory to enhanced levels of concentration. Regular activity stimulates the development of new neurons, allowing brain cells to grow which permit better focus and cognitive performance. As a result, children who are in better shape physically also have better academic results than those who do not exercise. At the same time, exercise promotes better sleep, which is another aspect responsible for boosting the formation of the brain.

According to the Delaware Department of Education, students who are more physically fit perform well and behave better during school classes – regardless of their family income, race, gender, or school district. What’s more, research from the University of Illinois revealed the physical activity improves white matter integrity, a factor that links with “superior cognitive performance,” and better communication between different regions of the brain.

Healthier Lifestyles Make Happier Children

Finally, regular physical activity also has a positive impact on the mental health of a child. Numerous studies have shown undeniable relationships between the frequency of a child’s physical activity levels, and their mental health in association with emotional distress, anxiety, depression, and self-esteem. The same phenomenon applies no matter your age – people who have had particularly stressful days often blow off steam after work with an afternoon run.

The reason for this is that physical activity promotes the delivery of endorphins to the brain, elevating the mood. At the same time, getting rid of excess stress with physical activity can help to refresh a child’s system, improving their motivation in class and enhancing their ability to focus on other tasks. Because they have already had an outlet for their stress, children exposed to regular exercise are also less likely to get involved with negative behavior inside and outside of school.

In other words, as a result of physical activity, children are likely to perform better in school, establish friendships, be more mentally healthy, and learn social lessons – all factors important for the future.

Children Need to Move to Develop

In conclusion, physical activity plays a crucial rule in the general development of a child, from establishing motor skills, to ensuring psychological well being, emotional maturity, and cognitive focus. Children who are inactive are more likely to suffer from health problems, and could even be exposed to physical, psychological, and social issues that impact the rest of their lives.

A greater focus on physical education could ensure that children consistently engage in enough physical activity to support brain health, a better lifestyle, and good character.

Let’s Move! Active Schools recognizes Athletes for Hope and Sportime featuring SPARK as Partners of the Year

Friday, May 20th, 2016


May 20, 2016                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Let’s Move! Active Schools recognizes Athletes for Hope and Sportime featuring SPARK as Partners of the Year

Let’s Move! Active Schools, part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative dedicated to ensuring 60 minutes of physical activity a day is the norm in K-12 schools, today honored Athletes for Hope and Sportime featuring SPARK with its inaugural Partner of the Year Award. The awards were presented as part of the 2016 Partnership for a Healthier America’s Building a Healthier Future Summit in Washington, D.C.

The Let’s Move! Active Schools Partner of the Year Award recognizes organizations that have actively prioritized the cause of Active Schools and supported schools in achieving physical education and physical activity best practices through the Let’s Move! Active Schools framework during the past year.

“We are thrilled to recognize Athletes for Hope and Sportime featuring SPARK for their outstanding leadership, collaboration and commitment to Let’s Move! Active Schools,” said Charlene Burgeson, Let’s Move! Active Schools Executive Director. “Our partners are the engine for this initiative, and this award shines a spotlight on their contributions to the Active Schools cause.”

Let’s Move! Active Schools is powered by a national collaborative of 35 health, education and private sector organizations that work together through the collective impact framework to help schools create Active School environments that provide children with at least 60 minutes of physical activity before, during and after the school day.

Since partnering with Let’s Move! Active Schools in February 2015, Athletes for Hope has facilitated more than 100 school visits where Olympic, professional and collegiate athletes serve as physical activity role models for kids. Also, last fall, Athletes for Hope initiated “Athletes for Active Schools Week,” a campaign that mobilized social media, a #5forPE video challenge and school visits to raise awareness of Let’s Move! Active Schools on a national level.

“This award validates the importance of physical activity to the 3,000 professional, Olympic, and college Athletes for Hope members, and we are truly honored to be recognized,” said Ivan Blumberg, Chief Executive Officer of Athletes for Hope.

Sportime featuring SPARK joined the national collaborative in January 2014 and has integrated Let’s Move! Active Schools into many of its key programs and initiatives. In addition to driving enrollment via several promotions and delivering an exclusive Let’s Move! Active Schools grant program to schools, Sportime featuring SPARK also sponsored a think tank meeting to address physical education and physical activity needs of students with disabilities.

“We’re very honored to be recognized as Partner of the Year by an initiative as transformative and well-respected as Let’s Move! Active Schools,” stated Dr. Kymm Ballard, Executive Director of SPARK. “This is a special time as Sportime featuring SPARK celebrates 50 years enhancing the health and wellness of our youth. This has been accomplished through evidence-based curriculum, teacher training, and equipment that help students maximize their physical activity and health. We’re dedicated to the mission of Let’s Move! Active Schools and are excited to offer this year 50 Let’s Move! Active Schools Activation Grants to help schools get active before, during, and after school. We received over 500 applications for the Activation Grant, and the grant winners will be announced next week. We continue to encourage all schools to participate in this healthy initiative and look forward to many more years of a successful partnership!”

“Our collaboration with Let’s Move! Active Schools is extremely important to School Specialty as physical, mental and emotional health and wellness are core values we live by. With our Sportime featuring SPARK platform, we promote best practices and standards in physical education that support and motivate our children to be active for a lifetime,” commented Joseph M. Yorio, President and Chief Executive Officer of School Specialty. “This is a great privilege and we look forward to working more closely with the Let’s Move! Active Schools collaborative to drive home the importance of wellness.”

Since its March 2013 launch, more than 19,000 schools in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia have enrolled in Let’s Move! Active Schools, reaching more than 10 million students. Find out more at


6 Apps Every Physical Educator Needs

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

physical education apps

Mobile fitness applications are all the rage for people who want to get active and stay in shape. Smart wearables revenue is projected to hit $19 billion USD worldwide by 2018 – driven in large part by the demand for fitness trackers and accompanying apps.

Physical education teachers can tap the same type of technology to engage students in P.E. class, and to keep them moving long after class has ended. By downloading these free (and a few low-cost) apps, P.E. teachers can incorporate the best tech resources into their everyday classroom activities.

Check out the top apps that physical education teachers should have at the ready:

1. SworkIt – Free

Fourteen million people have downloaded this free app, which allows users to create personalized workouts that range from five minutes to an hour in length. There are options for cardio, Yoga, strength training, circuit activities, and more. This is a perfect fit for P.E. teachers who want to switch up the type of activities from one class to the next, but don’t have a lot of time to create such a variation in lesson plans. The workouts that happen in SworkIt can sync to other fitness apps like Fitbit, DailyMile, MyFitnessPal, and more.

2. Hudl Technique – Free

This app makes slow motion video assessment possible, making it applicable to both P.E. class and school sports settings. The app can analyze baseball swings, or set up side-by-side comparisons of tennis techniques. You can record video in high-definition video, and upload videos and images from other sources, like the phone camera. Hudl also offers a library of video resources to help students learn new skill sets.

3. FIT Radio – Free

Nothing gets a kid’s feet moving quite like the right music. Eliminate the time it takes to create the right playlists for your activities by choosing from thousands of lists already available in this app. There are 15 to 20 available playlists in each genre that are changed up daily. There is even a setting for picking kid-friendly tunes that are void of profanity and inappropriate content.

4. Skitch – Free

This app is not P.E.-specific but its capabilities work well in the setting. Skitch is a product of Evernote (the popular organization app), and it allows users to visually communicate ideas in a variety of ways. In a P.E. class, Skitch is useful for taking photos of students trying out new skills, and then attaching ideas and tips to the image. Sports coaches can also use the Skitch app to draw out plays, or comment on images of plays that have already occurred.

5. FitnessMeter – $1.99

FitnessMeter is the ultimate tool for measuring student athletic pursuits – from speed to agility to altitude to general physical shape. The app has video functions that help with measuring outcomes, like distance and height. It even has a function that counts repetition on activities like jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, and chin-ups.

6. Balance It – $1.99

This app is specific to helping students develop gymnastics skills through Task Card learning. With more than 60 hand-drawn balances, starting at beginner level and working up in difficulty, it’s a scalable app that can work for a variety of ages and fitness levels. In addition to individual “balance” challenges, there are paired ones and challenges written for larger group teamwork.

While Physical Education apps can’t take the place of the actual physical activities in class, they can supplement what teachers are already doing quite well. Blending the available technology with good old-fashioned exercise and skill building is a cutting-edge way to maximize the impact of P.E. classes and keep students genuinely excited about the activities taking place.


Protecting Children’s Cardiovascular Health

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

children's cardiovascular health

We’re born with reasonably good levels of heart health, and as we grow, our lifestyle choices, dietary decisions and other habits affect our hearts increasingly over time. Although many people associate heart concerns with the elderly population, research shows that the slippery slope into chronic cardio issues can actually start at a very young age.

Studies show that children throughout the world are approximately 15% less fit than their parents were at the same age, with cardiovascular endurance declining by around 6% per decade. Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine conducted a study that examined four indications of heart health in children: BMI, diet, blood pressure, and total cholesterol. The study found that out of the sample of 8,961 children between the ages of 2 and 11, not a single child had ideal levels for all aspects of heart health.

If children are unfit in their youth, they’re likely to develop worsening conditions later in life. Since heart disease remains to be the number one killer of Americans today, it’s important to examine the reasons behind children’s declining cardiovascular health and combat this trend by teaching healthy habits.

Lack of Physical Education

In the recent years, schools have been cutting down on physical education classes and recess in an attempt to open up extra time for academic study. This approach could be detrimental not only to the physical, mental, and cognitive development of children; it could be actively putting them at a higher risk for blood pressure problems, high cholesterol, obesity, and heart disease.

Reduced physical activity in school is a major risk factor for developing coronary artery disease and chronic diseases like diabetes. Just like for adults, increased levels of physical activity are often associated with decreased cardiovascular risk and increased life expectancy — meaning that the more we cut down on physical education and recess, the more damage we could be doing to our children.

Lack of access to recess and physical education could also correlate with fewer chances to develop crucial social skills at a young age, which may lead to higher levels of stress and anxiety in students.

Poor Dietary Habits

Giving children unlimited access to consumption of sweets and unhealthy foods could lead to literal heartache later in life. In a study regarding sugar consumption, the CDC found that the average teenager consumed around 500 calories worth of processed sugar every day. Teenagers whose calorie intake was made up of more than 30% sugar had higher levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) in their system.

In the past thirty years, childhood obesity levels have doubled, leading to increases in instances of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Although it might not be possible to constantly watch over what children are eating, parents and schools can offer more nutritious choices and keep junk food out of easy reach.

Sitting Still for Too Long

Research suggests that too much “static sitting” could be bad for your health, regardless of the amount of exercise you might get at other times. Studies have linked excessive sitting — such as the time students spend sitting still in class — to issues like type 2 diabetes, obesity, and more.

One of the largest studies conducted to date involved a sample group of almost 800,000 people, and found that when compared to people who sat less often, people who stayed seated for most of the day had a 147% increase in cardiovascular events and a 90% increase of death caused by heart problems. Promoting positive behaviors at school, like encouraging students to get up and move around every hour, can help keep their hearts healthy and instill long-lasting good habits.

Promoting Good Heart Health

While a lot of articles give advice for adults to improve heart health and lower their cholesterol, many ignore the fact that bad habits often start in childhood, creating ill effects that persist throughout the remainder of a person’s life. The American Heart Association encourages adults  to model healthy behaviors for children as early as possible. The recent data revealed about child heart health is a worrying concept, but acts as a reminder that cardiovascular fitness is a lifelong process, not something that should only be considered in adulthood.

Encourage kids to engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day — using as many muscle groups as possible — through activities like swimming, running, or cycling. If we fail to inspire children to develop fitness habits through dietary awareness and physical education, we may be robbing them of the resources they need for long-term cardiovascular health.

3 Reasons Wearable Tech Belongs in Physical Education Classes

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

wearable tech

Wearable technology is quickly becoming more than just a buzz phrase in education. From virtual technology headsets in geography class to fitness trackers in physical education settings, the technology of personal electronics is transforming the way students learn.

The nonprofit group Youth Sports Trust recently released a report forecasting trends in physical education for the next 20 years, and the organization listed wearable technology as a major player in what’s ahead. Wearable devices – and the accompanying mobile applications – will change the way P.E. classes happen, and how students can track and assess their own success. Gamification, via incorporating technology like virtual reality, will also play a role in transforming P.E. classes and sports offerings.

Let’s delve a little more deeply into why wearable technology will boost the value and effectiveness of P.E. classes, and how students and teachers will benefit.

Digital Native Mindset

The students in today’s physical education classes are part of the first generation of digital natives; they’ve grown up with uber-connected lives. Common Sense Media reports that 72% of children have a home computer, and 67% own a video game system. In the 0 to 8 age group, more than one-quarter of all screen time takes place on mobile devices like smartphones or tablets. Kids don’t need lessons in app usage – they show up to Kindergarten classrooms with the skill set in place.

Incorporating technology that students are already comfortable using into P.E. settings just makes sense. Wearable devices and apps help kids make the connection between fitness and the rest of their daily lives. It’s also a way to tap into something they’re already good at – using technology – to further engage students in P.E. class.

Better Assessment

As society transitions to a more automated, sedentary way of life, physical education classes are important places to teach students the value of active lifestyles. That happens through action. The focus of P.E. is not to allow the natural athletes a place to shine; it is to welcome students at every fitness level and help them improve. This occurs through standard practices like timed running or fitness tests, which are then duplicated throughout the term to gauge improvement.

Wearables like fitness trackers make it much easier to accomplish and streamline the assessment process, for both educators and students. For students who own their own wearables, the activity that happens in class is traceable to other aspects of life, and there is an easily accessible way to measure progress. Teachers benefit from more precise assessment tools, and students are able to carry the lessons they learn in P.E. classes into the rest of their lives.

Holistic Healthy Living

Wearable technology is not just about how many steps a person walks in a day, or reaching the 60-a-day recommended minutes of physical activity (though both are certainly perks of the technology). Leading devices, like the Fitbit, track sleep patterns and nutrition, and also guide users in making smart, healthy choices.

Fitbit is a well-known leader in wearable tech, but there are others available, with smaller price tags – including the $30 Zamzee device that is specific to younger users. A study of children who wore the Zamzee for 6 months found a 59% increase in the amount of physical activity they completed each day. These devices have mobile dashboards that show users a snapshot of their overall health – including steps taken, calories burned, food consumed, and the amount of sleep a person receives. With knowledge comes power, and wearable devices are helping users – from adults to elementary-age students – take control of their health through data measurement.

Technology is often associated with an increase in laziness; but when it comes to wearable devices, the opposite is true. Embracing these devices and apps not only saves times for P.E. teachers, but it engages students in a heightened way, empowering them to take on better lifelong health pursuits.