Posts Tagged ‘Physical Activity and Health’

Awards and Rewards for a Lifetime of Achievement

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011


On May 10, 2011, I met a Super Bowl MVP and an Olympic gold medalist–in the same day.  That was a first for me, and these were only some of the sports celebrities gathered in a spectacular chamber in a US Senate Office Building.  The occasion was even more special because I was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award by the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition.  Most of the other awardees came to that moment mainly through sports.  One of the more interesting awardees brought Tae Kwon Do to the US and is in the Black Belt Hall of Fame.  Pretty cool.  Because I was a scrawny, poorly coordinated kid, I arrived by a different route, though I did enjoy all the hours I spent playing sports in my neighborhood.  My connection to sports and fitness is through health research.  Though physical activity research is often in the news, I admit to being jealous about the attention paid to genetically-superior athletes who perform incredible feats of endurance, strength, skill, and determination.  Think about all the media exposure for sports each week.  The irony is that appreciation of sports performance inspires a lot more sitting and watching than active emulation.  Part of the job of physical activity promoters is to get sports fans (and everyone else) off the bleachers and the sofa and out onto the field, the road, the court, and the trail.  I’m glad the President’s Council is bringing the sparkle of sports celebrities to the goal of getting Americans more active.

SPARK had a lot to do with me getting this award.  There are many physical activity researchers who have published papers and been vocal advocates for active living.  However, few of us have been fortunate enough to see our research lead directly to improving the lives of millions.  Over the years, SPARK has certainly provided millions of young people with enjoyable, skill-building physical activity.  This is possible because of the thousands of teachers and recreation leaders SPARK has trained–and trained well.  I assure you that the fantastic accomplishments of SPARK are reward enough.  It’s very nice to get an award, but important to recognize that SPARK’s success, as well as the contributions of many research collaborators, made the award possible.  Even better than the award is seeing that SPARK just keeps getting better.  More programs.  More partners.  More research and evaluation.  Smart use of technology to support teachers.  More activity for more people.  There are more rewards coming for SPARK.  Which awards can we nominate SPARK for?

Jim Sallis

SPARK & Skillastics Team-Up to Get Kids Active

Friday, May 6th, 2011

SPARK is proud to announce a partnership with Skillastics, the leader in engaging, reinforcing, and assessing large groups of children PreK-12 in standards-based fitness and sports specific skill development activities.

Skillastics, now a SPARK Recommended Resource, will enhance SPARK activities by providing an additional assessment tool, allowing the instructor the freedom to view a large amount of children engaging in activities supported by a SPARK lesson. This partnership was formed to foster greater access to quality physical activity solutions for schools and community-based organizations nationwide.

SPARK Executive Director Paul Rosengard adds, “I’ve been a big fan of Sandy (Spin) Slade and Skillastics for a long time. Their products are an excellent supplement for our SPARK teachers and youth leaders and I recommend them highly. I’m especially excited about Skillastics’ application in after school environments where space limitations and instruction of children from multiple grade levels are common place.”

Skillastics is considered a “new and improved twist” in circuit training, and allows 1 to 100 children of varying ages and athletic abilities to participate and enjoy being active at one time. They provide solutions for physical education, after school, and early childhood programs.

Their newest offering, “Character is Cool”, is designed as a teaching tool to help children interact positively with one another while participating in cooperative fitness activities that emphasize character traits such as good sporting behavior, respect, responsibility, teamwork, caring and honesty.

Since its introduction in 2003, Skillastics is enjoyed in over 20,000 physical education classes, after school programs, and community-based organizations throughout the world!

For more information on Skillastics please visit

Study: Physically Active Kids Perform Better Academically

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

kids-in-schoolFor children, it’s important to begin a regular routine of healthy exercise as early as possible to help them perform at their best. However, such activity is a means of improving more than just the body through building muscle strength and endurance. In fact, many studies are now showing that children who are physically active also perform better in the classroom.

Over the past decade, the positives of physical education are helping students and teachers to feel good about taking a break from the usual classroom environment and get moving. The original SPARK study is still the only NIH study to positively link physical education and academics and conclude that more time spent in physical education class did not result in a decrease in academic performance (SPARK study in Research Quarterly – Click Here).

Below is a short list of sources that have linked staying in shape with staying ahead in the classroom. And for more resources (articles/publications/webinars) on the link between physical activity and academic performance you can Click Here .   (Image Source)

1. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education notes a 2001 California Department of Education study that correlates school performance with maintaining good physical condition. Student standardized achievement test scores were compared to the state required fitness test, known as the FitnessGram.  Pupils being evaluated underwent the scrutiny of this test, as provided by the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research. Different traits such as aerobic capacity, body composition, flexibility and more were measured. Results of the study found a direct relationship between physical fitness and improved academic achievement, especially in the area of mathematics. Findings also suggested that family involvement in physical activity with children outside of school helps to reinforce and foster life-long fitness habits.

2. For standardized math and English tests, studies have shown that children achieve more when they are able to pass a number of fitness tests. This finding published in the School of Journal Health studied a group of students between the 2004 and 2005 school year. Pupils performed better in both reading and math when they were also involved in ongoing athletic activities, regardless of gender or ethnicity. The idea that physical exertion will detract from a student’s studies is quickly becoming null and void, thanks to indicators such as these. Corresponding results help secure the belief that fitness programs may actually serve to enhance academic performance.

3. A 2005 report by the California Department of Education cites evidence that healthy, fit children are more prone to attend school and perform better than their sedentary peers. In response, the department encourages schools to make physical education an essential goal. This report expresses concern over the obesity epidemic amongst children in the United States, as well as illnesses it can cause later in life, such as heart disease and diabetes, among others. Physical education allows students to improve their bone density and motor skills, as well as boosts self esteem through exercise. The report further calls for legislation to continue ongoing support of health programs and improved nutrition for students while on campus. Emphasis on making sure that physical education teachers have the ability to give students the highest quality experience available is provided. Textbooks are available to help outline the skills that students should be learning from such programs.

4. The American College of Sports Medicine noted a 2006 study that supports the relationship between increased activity in children and higher grades. Children who participated in hearty exercise for no less than 20 minutes, three or more days a week, exhibited higher grades.  Those involved in less strenuous activities for 30 minutes over five days per week did not achieve the same improved grade results. Researchers advise the incorporation of strenuous physical activities into school programs and recommend teachers and parents assist students in balancing fitness programs alongside academic pursuits.

5. The California Journal of Health Promotion published findings in 2006 regarding explanations as to why physical education and academic achievement are associated.  A study was cited by California State University researchers who compared differences between schools that made fitness a priority and those that did not. When standardized pupil test scores were analyzed, it was determined that the leading schools also had formal, structured physical education programs based on the State Board of Education guidelines. Conversely, the lowest academic performing schools did not even have gym teachers.  The case for preserving physical education programs during school cutbacks is made, as well as the case for improving children’s health prospects in the future by remaining active.

6. A 2010 report in Science Daily cited a medical study presented at a conference for the American Heart Association that links physical fitness to better school performance.  For students who remain fit throughout their schooling years, there is a better chance of increased academic achievement. Standardized tests for students over time show that the students who perform best do so when they remain fit across different grade levels. Students should receive at least an hour of physical activity per day, with curriculum appropriate for their age group. Research indicates that healthier, happier children become fit adults as a result.


With the dangers of sedentary lifestyles becoming more apparent, it’s no wonder that exercise is being championed for all school-age students. Multiple scientific studies prove that there is more to academic performance than just book learning. The amount of exercise pupils receive in school can create positive habits that serve to compliment academic achievement. Promoting physical health in childhood can only serve to benefit our youth with the outcome of healthier bodies accompanied by brighter minds.

Schools Add Skateboarding to Kids Classes

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

Not too long ago, schools and city councils across the United States were at odds with skateboarders. We’ve all seen the signs banning skateboarding from school and public premises: “Absolutely No Skateboarding,” “No Skateboarding, Biking or Rollerblading Allowed,” etc. Some places, such as Center City Philadelphia, have gone so far as to ban skateboarding from all public property, including sidewalks! Yet skateboarding has still remained a very popular sport amongst children and young adults. And recently, many schools have actually introduced skateboarding to their Physical Education curriculum.

(Image Source)

Schools across the United States are revamping their P.E. curriculum and exchanging traditional competitive team sports for more alternative and individualized sports such as skateboarding. Advocates for the new P.E. claim that sports such as skateboarding appeal to children who aren’t natural athletes and who don’t enjoy traditional competitive, full-contact sports, for instance, soccer and football. One statistic found that as few as 10% of school-aged children are natural athletes who enjoy competitive contact sports. Advocates claim that exposing these children to a sport like skateboarding promotes a more active lifestyle inside and outside of the classroom. Children who aren’t interested in competitive sports are more likely to go home and participate in a more individualized activity, like skateboarding, once they have been exposed to it in school.

There is a huge push for schools to promote active lifestyles in young children because child obesity is still a very serious concern in the United States. The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia reports that almost 20% of children between the ages of 6 and 19 are considered obese. In addition, the overall child obesity rate has tripled over the last thirty years. A healthy lifestyle includes not only healthy eating habits but also regular physical activity. Because of the child obesity epidemic, many schools have introduced health classes that stress good eating habits. Children must also be taught how to integrate exercise into their daily routine. Therefore it is essential that children are introduced to a variety of sports—skateboarding included—at an early age in order to find sports that appeal most to them.

(Image Source)

This new P.E. program has been introduced to a variety of schools across the country, including schools in New Jersey, New York, California and Minnesota. It has been met with rave reviews by both P.E. instructors and students. Skateboarding has been a particularly successful part of the new program. Teachers who are in their twenties and thirties most likely grew up with skateboarding and so the program is just as exciting for young teachers as it is for students.

Most importantly, skateboarding is a great way to exercise and have fun at the same time. It has been proven to increase balance, agility, coordination, and reaction time. It specifically targets the leg muscles and core muscles. More advanced skaters who are able to perform tricks and grabs also use their arm and back muscles. Skateboarding for twenty to thirty minutes is a great form of cardiovascular activity that increases the heart rate while burning calories and developing muscle. Perhaps one of the best side effects of skateboarding that teachers have noted is improved self-esteem in children as they get better and better. Beginning students, who could barely stand on a skateboard on day one, are skating laps around the gymnasium by the end of the program. In the process of learning to skateboard, students learn that hard work and perseverance pay off.


(Image Source)

One of the main drawbacks to introducing a skateboarding program to a school is the cost. Many schools have been faced with tough budgets over the last few years. And unfortunately, safely learning how to skateboard requires quite a bit of equipment: skateboards, helmets, wrist guards, elbow pads and knee pads. Skate Pass, a Colorado-based company, offers skateboarding “curriculum kits” for approximately $3,000 which include enough equipment for twenty children.  The kit includes skateboards that are specifically designed with young children in mind, and wheels that won’t mark up gymnasium floors. They also provide specific curriculums for beginner, intermediate and advanced students. Schools that have found money in their budgets and implemented a skateboarding curriculum of some kind have found that students’ reactions are incredibly positive.

Once viewed as a troublesome and meaningless activity, skateboarding is now being recognized as an engaging form of physical activity for children. It is an effective form of exercise and builds self-esteem in school-aged children. P.E. teachers are recognizing that competitive full-contact sports don’t appeal to everyone, and they are beginning to introduce alternative programs that promote individuality. Although the cost of implementing a skateboarding program is quite high, the results seem to outweigh the financial burden. Students are more engaged in physical activity, and they learn that exercise can be fun.

A Job Worth Doing

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

By Dr. James Sallis

Does anyone ever ask you why you work in the physical activity or physical education field? If so, or if you wonder whether this hard work is worth it, consider these facts:

  • Physical inactivity accounts for almost 200,000 U.S. deaths annually (Danaei et al., 2009). It is ranked fourth behind smoking (450,000 deaths), high blood pressure (300,000), and overweight/obesity (200,000 deaths). Of course, physical activity helps people quit smoking, control high blood pressure, and prevent obesity.
  • The World Health Organization (2004) estimates 2 million deaths per year from physical inactivity internationally, making it the 7th leading cause of death.
  • The 1996 Surgeon General’s Report, Physical Activity and Health, identified physical inactivity as a risk factor for early death, cardiovascular diseases, several cancers, Type 2 diabetes, mental health problems, reduced quality of life, osteoporosis, and several other diseases (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996).
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates at least $76 billion in health care costs annually from physical inactivity (Pratt et al., 2000).
  • Based on recent data from objective monitoring using accelerometers, fewer than 50% of elementary children, 10% of adolescents, and 5% of adults are meeting current physical activity guidelines (Troiano et al., 2007). Thus, the vast majority of the American population is at risk of early death, multiple diseases, reduced quality of life, and higher health care costs due to physical inactivity.
  • The Surgeon General’s 2001 Call to Action on obesity (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 20001) and the Institute of Medicine’s 2005 report on Preventing Childhood Obesity (Koplan et al., 2004) identified increased physical activity as essential for reversing the obesity epidemic.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services released the first official government physical activity guidelines in 2008 (Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, 2008).
  • In the 13 years since the 1996 Surgeon General’s Report, about 2.6 million Americans have died because of insufficient progress in increasing physical activity (13 years X 200,000 deaths per year).

Are you now more convinced than ever that promoting physical activity is a very high priority? Don’t you think everyone should place a high value on physical activity? So do I, but unfortunately, not everyone values physical activity. This includes many of the groups responsible for improving health in the United States.

I want to call your attention to the October 2009 issue of Preventive Medicine. It contains a series of short commentaries that explain why more emphasis needs to be placed on promoting physical activity and what changes are needed to be successful. This issue grew out of a startling revelation. The National Institutes of Health published a list of 214 research topics for which it tracks funding. The list included every disease you ever heard of, enzymes you have not heard of, and a wide range of health behaviors, including diet, smoking, alcohol abuse, and violence. Everything important to health—except physical activity. It later became clear that NIH tracks 360 research topics, and physical activity was not on that list either—despite the fact that NIH has spent hundreds of millions of dollars over several decades on physical activity research.

Of course, this news was upsetting to physical activity professionals. How could the world’s leading health research organization not care enough to track spending on one of the leading health issues? The editor of Preventive Medicine decided the NIH situation was a symptom of a larger problem of physical activity being undervalued in every part of the health field. As just one example, every state, city, and county health department has many nutritionists, but most state health departments only have one physical activity specialist, and that person may be a nutritionist working on physical activity part-time. The journal is freely available online, and the short commentaries are easy to read:

As Toni Yancey and I ask in our introductory editorial, will physical activity be Rodney Dangerfield who never gets any respect, or Cinderella who is just waiting in the shadows until she gets her chance to become belle of the ball? The answer depends on us. One of the reasons physical activity is undervalued is that physical activity professionals and enthusiasts are too nice—and too quiet. We do not advocate well enough for what we believe in.

I hereby challenge you to take action to advocate for increased attention, resources, and funding for physical activity or physical education. Raise your voice for something that will make a difference. Here are some of my suggestions for improvements to demand and argue for, but I know you can identify many more needs.

  • A PE Coordinator in your school district or County Department of Education to promote improvements in PE.
  • In secondary schools, more resources for PE and intramurals that benefit many, rather than for interscholastic sports that benefit a few.
  • Open school grounds for community use during non-school hours.
  • Hire a qualified physical activity specialist in your local health department who can promote physical activity, including supporting improved school PE.
  • Write to local government leaders about where new parks or park renovations are needed.
  • Testify at local planning commission meetings to educate them about the necessity to design new developments and transportation projects that support physical activity for transportation and recreation.
  • Help write a Safe Routes to School grant proposal for your school.
  • Make sure all neighborhoods in your area have sidewalks.
  • Advocate for more and safer facilities for bicycling, like bike paths separated from traffic.
  • Join the new Physical Activity Special Interest Group of the American Public Health Association.

Surely you can find a physical activity cause to adopt. Get educated about it. Be bold and speak up to the people who make decisions. We know the deadly consequences of inactivity, so we all have a responsibility to work for a more active America. Keep us informed about what you do. Email SPARK your good ideas for advocacy, success stories, and frustrations.

I’m including references in this entry.

  1. American Public Health Association, 2008. Policy Statement 20079. Building a Public Health Infrastructure for Physical Activity Promotion.
  2. Danaei, G., Ding, E.L., Mozaffarian, D., Taylor, B., Rehm, J., Murray, C.J.L., Ezzati, M., 2009. The preventable causes of death in the United States: Comparative risk assessment of dietary, lifestyle, and metabolic risk factors. PLoS Med 6(4), e1000058.
  3. Koplan, J.P., Liverman, C.T., Kraak, V.I., eds, 2005. Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
  4. Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, 2008. Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Report, 2008. Washington, DC, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  5. Pratt, M., Macera, C.A., Wang, G., 2000. Higher direct medical costs associated with physical inactivity. Physician Sports Med, 28, 63-70.
    Troiano, R.P., Berrigan, D., Dodd, K.W., Masse, L.C., Tilert, T., McDowell, M., 2007. Physical activity in the United States measured by accelerometer. Med Sci Sports Exerc 40, 181-188.
    U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996. Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000. Healthy People 2010. Conference ed. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001. The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.
  8. World Health Organization, 2004. Global Strategy On Diet, Physical Activity And Health. Geneva: WHO.
  9. Yancey, A.K., guest editor. Theme issue: Forum on Physical Activity Research and Funding. Prev Med. October 2009, volume 49, issue 4.

Jim Sallis