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Impact of Physical Education on Psychological Development

Instructor: Duane Cloud

Duane has taught teacher education courses and has a Doctorate in curriculum and instruction. His doctoral dissertation is on ''The Wizard of Oz''.

Physical education is part of basic curriculum in most schools. It can offer a welcome break from a student's day of study, but is it more than just a diversion? Some of the effects of physical education have benefits for students.

What Is Physical Education?

Physical education (PE) - sometimes called physical training (PT) in Europe - is a course of instruction in schools designed to get the students to exercise. I have to admit, as a youth, I considered physical education to be somewhat a waste of time. As a rather inactive young person, I preferred to keep school for learning - and socializing - as I assumed it was meant to be. I found very few of the activities in PE engaging because I was fairly introverted and uncoordinated.

As an adult, I wish I had gotten into more healthy habits as a kid, and exercise definitely tops that list. This lesson discusses the role of PE in forming healthy habits in young people, and some of the effects of participation in physical education programs.

Why Does PE Exist?

Physical education does not exist to turn students into star athletes. Rather, the hope is to expose them to different forms of exercise as a way to consider their own physical fitness throughout life. This is much the same as science, mathematics, and the arts are often taught as part of a pre-college curriculum. By offering these subjects to young people, teachers hope to inspire the next generation to explore, experiment, and seriously develop these different disciplines throughout their lives.

The Benefits of PE

There are short term benefits to students who participate in PE. Here, we're going to be looking at a variety of developmental effects of physical education when included as part of a curriculum. What potential benefits await those young people that stick with PE courses? This involves little guesswork. The research on PE benefits overall is limited, but we'll highlight what researchers know with relative certainty.

Reduces Stress

Stress is the body's way of dealing with the demands of the outside world. While there are good types of stress - called eustress - we'll be looking at the bad kind of stress. This kind of stress is called distress, which can manifest in increased anxiety, mental illness, and poor decisions. People react to stress differently and some of these reactions, such as stress-eating, can be destructive to the individual.

Exercise is associated with a reduction of tension in the individual who is exercising. This tension reduction is especially beneficial to people who exercise regularly and can help students to cope with the stress in their lives. Young people who exercise also tend to sleep better as a result of this tension reduction. Better sleep can help these individuals to concentrate better.

Boosts Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is the sense that one is a worthwhile and good person. Though self-esteem is no longer considered to be a cure-all in psychology as it once was, self-esteem is still important to young people's development. In particular, young people who are overweight suffer from low self-esteem.

Exercise alone may not be enough to completely solve a young person's weight problems. Some weight issues stem from genetic or nutritional issues. However, people who exercise have better overall self-esteem than those that are sedentary or physically inactive.

Helps Students with Learning Disabilities

Exercising the body can benefit the mind, even among individuals with learning issues, such as attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Students with ADHD have difficulty concentrating on tasks and may have problems with impulse control. Regular exercise can reduce the amount of medication necessary to keep students with ADHD focused in classes.

People with ASD process information differently from others and often find themselves fascinated with repetitive motions or staring at objects. Exercise has been shown to reduce these behaviors in young people with ASD.

Note that exercise doesn't necessarily improve academic outcomes for these students, but lessens some of the more disruptive habits of children with these conditions. This holds true for students with a variety of learning disabilities.

Other Possible Benefits

There is an association between exercise and a reduction in depression. However, the exact relationship and how it functions are debated at this time.

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