Now in its eighth year, over 200,000 students have participated in the Irish Life Health Schools’ Fitness Challenge, making it the largest study on the fitness of school children in Ireland. We have analysed the results of the Schools’ Fitness Challenge since 2011, and alarming trends are emerging.
It is baffling that we don’t understand the importance of fitness for children’s long-term brain health and academic performance. There are several international studies which show that exercise reduces stress levels, improves concentration and positively impacts academic performance. The findings from a 2014 study that tracked over 80,000 students found that children who significantly improved their fitness over a five-year period improved their academic performance compared to children whose fitness levels did not change.
A low level of cardiovascular fitness is related to an increased risk for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, some forms of cancer, obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and non-alcohol fatty liver.
Parents need to appreciate the strong link between childhood fitness and physical and mental health. Exercise should be viewed as Medicine. Indeed, if exercise could be prescribed as a pill, it would be the most prescribed drug on the planet, and many parents who write excuse notes for PE are denying their children access to this ‘wonder-drug’.
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