A headline crossed my desktop recently. And it made me sad:
We’d ranked 47 out of 50.
It didn’t concern me that we’d be among the losers in a global field day. After all, the pressure to always win, rather than to have fun, is a key reason why most kids in the U.S. drop out of organized sports by the time they’re thirteen.
The news made me sad because, chances are, the lack of physical activity among our youth, and ultimately among these future adults, will adversely affect how they feel — about themselves and their lives.
I could easily lay out scores upon scores of research studies that prove time and again the benefits of exercise to good health. Regular physical activity helps prevent and/or better manage type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, arthritis, and other chronic illnesses. Exercise also has proven to be a cognitive power boost. Studies show that regular physical activity helps kids better focus and helps improve their academic performance. Moreover, there’s a growing body of evidence that shows that exercise may even help protect us against cognitive decline as we age.
But what made me really sad when I read that headline was the realization that our failure as a society to create a culture for our children that reveres physical activity as an indispensable part of everyday life hurts them.
Somewhere along the line, our society became too sedentary. We sit more at work. We sit more at school. We sit more in our cars. And we sit more at home, in front of our TVs, computers, video games, and smartphones.
Somewhere along the line, we “advanced” to the point that we’ve “high-teched” movement out of our lives; and as a result, too many kids no longer see running around outside as fun.
Frankly, we’ve fallen short.
As a society, we haven’t done enough to inspire our kids, to enable them, and to work with them to get up, get out, and get moving regularly, as a natural, enjoyable part of each and every day.
And in all likelihood, it will hurt their chances for happiness.
We know there’s a link between physical activity, self-efficacy, and happiness.
Most people have heard about those great feel-good chemicals your brain releases when you exercise. But there’s more to it than that. And the research bears it out.
Studies show that people who are more physically active are happier, experience greater levels of excitement and enthusiasm, and are more satisfied with life, less anxious, and have higher self-esteem. Exercise also has an important role in preventing and treating depression and anxiety.
In short, there are many, many reasons why exercise is so important to our children’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
It is for these reasons that we cannot just fall back on the couch and give up.
It’s time for us to rise up in our homes, in our schools, in our communities, in our workplace, and in our local, state and federal governments to recreate the identity of American culture—to one that does not allow the conveniences of technology to push movement out of our lives; but instead, to be that thriving, optimistic, and vibrant American society that embraces and celebrates physically active lifestyles as integral to our nation’s way of life.
That America really is within our reach. It’s about leaving our desks and taking a walk at lunchtime, turning on the music at home and randomly dancing to a couple of songs, valuing PE and recess and building movement into classroom learning, allocating funds for city parks and sidewalks, and passing legislation that makes exercise equipment and classes more affordable for everyone.
The ticket is, we must care.
And then we must take action.
So let’s get moving.
Our children’s long-term happiness may very well depend on it.