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America, focus on fitness

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America, focus on fitness

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“You guys look so beautiful today!” Robbie Stapleton beams as she voices her classic catchphrase to a small crowd of Community High School students who had just finished the “Goddess” 5k. The students are exhausted, but undeniably happy. They have just completed Mrs. Stapleton’s alternative final exam for their state mandated personal fitness course.

But how much does fitness really matter? Unlike other required subjects such as math or science, students in Michigan are only required to take one semester (credit) of personal fitness during high school. The state prioritizes these academic courses over fitness courses in an attempt to prepare high schoolers for adulthood.

But why? American adults are notoriously bad at staying in shape; in 2018 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that two out of every five American adults are medically obese. Another study done by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that 45 percent of adults are not sufficiently active. The health of Americans are in shambles, and high schools could play a large role in restoring it.

Not everyone will want increased personal fitness in schools, however. Athletes might argue that they already workout for hours a day and being forced to take more personal fitness will not benefit them. Their concern is easily understood, but athletes who workout regularly are a separate issue. For the rest of us—those are not obligated by any coach or team to a consistent workout schedule—a mandatory exercise regimen done consistently throughout one’s schooling can be invaluable.

“I really enjoyed taking personal fitness,” said Quincy Jenkins, a Community senior who has taken personal fitness three times. “I first took it in 9th grade first semester; it was a great way to start high school. It wasn’t a hard academic class and I made a lot of friends. It was a lot of fun”

Six months after his last personal fitness class Jenkins still finds the motivation to be active. “I want to keep a lean body. I don’t want to get fat, I constantly move. My brothers are always active, so they always motivate me to move around,” Jenkins said.

Another senior, Emma Hoffman, weighed in on how she is able to stay in shape a year and a half since her last personal fitness class: “My motivations comes from setting goals for myself to achieve,” Hoffman said. “This last summer, I told myself I was going to run everyday, which was a very unrealistic goal, but every time I did I marked it on my calendar. By the end of the summer I was able to see just how much I ran and it made me feel so powerful and in control of my health.”

According to the CDC, it is important for teenagers to get at least 1 hour of physical exercise every day to minimize health risks. However, being fit in high school is only one piece of the puzzle of good health. Teaching students that their health holds value, and showing them how worthwhile healthy habits are, may be priceless down the road.

“I’m not sure there’s any secret,” beloved Community High School veteran Robbie Stapleton said, when asked about keeping motivated to stay fit. “We sweat together, we bond, we become friends – that makes it easy.  Also, we work hard. When people see results, it’s easier to to keep at it and work harder, I think. And I truly believe that teenagers are dying to move their bodies. When they do, they realize how critical it is to their well-being.  That’s motivation. It is very, very gratifying when students come back years later (after graduation) and tell me about their first marathons, or come back with a completely changed body type and credit personal fitness with their motivation.”

It will take more than motivated students to realize a more fit country. To make America’s schools healthier, we would need more funding for gym programs and better personal fitness programs. These programs would need to promote healthy lifestyles throughout adulthood, and fight back against the constant shouting of parents and legislators wanting just “essential” classes for their kids.

It will take an immense effort to get where we need to be. Any less, and the health of Americans will continue to sink into the sands of indifference.

How much does fitness really matter?

The answer, is quite a bit.

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