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HEALTHWATCH

A fitness revolution

DR. KANNAN PUGAZHENDI

Emphasising Health Related Fitness right from school will help kids be active, stress-free and promote lifelong fitness.



KEEP THEM HEALTHY: Parents and teachers play a vital role in ensuring children's fitness. PHOTO: P.V. SIVAKUMAR

THE intense love affair between Indians and sport has deep roots. Just as the Americans and Brazilians are passionate about baseball and football, Indians have a similar feeling for cricket.

But despite the popularity of baseball, it did not make the Americans physically fit. The majority who watched the sport failed to play it. They were busy munching fast food and snacks, while watching their favourite player in action.

During World War II, of the nine million registrants examined for the armed services in the U.S., three million were rejected as physically and mentally unfit. In 1953, the Krause Weber test results shocked the Americans because 57 percent of their school children failed, compared to only 8.7 per cent in Europe. In 1961, John F. Kennedy said, "The softening process of our civilisation continues to carry on its persistent erosion. The strength of our nation is no greater than the collective wellbeing of our people. The vigour of our country is no stronger than the vitality and will of all our countrymen. The level of physical, mental, moral and spiritual fitness of every citizen must be our constant concern."

Shift the focus

The furious debate continues: whether sport-based physical education programmes can deliver the masses from the diseases of inactivity. Have schools failed to lay the foundation for a healthy body? Do we need programmes that develop cardio respiratory endurance and muscular strength?

The incidence of obesity in youth is very high all over the world and is increasing at an alarming pace in India. The prevalence of obesity in 30 to 40 per cent of the population in the U.S. speaks for the failure of the sports-based physical education programme. Therefore, it is important to ensure that, in India, the focus shifts from Skill Related Fitness (SRF), which is limited to the few who play a sport, to Health Related Fitness (HRF), which can be enjoyed by every child.

Take an average Sports Day in schools. A meagre 10 per cent of the students compete, while the others simply applaud. Schools encourage mass drill to convince parents of their children's participation. Drills are poor calorie burners. When the New Gymnastics was introduced in the U.S. in 1860, it consisted of several sets of light exercises including bean bag games, callisthenic movements, wooden dumbbells and wands, and dancing and marching to musical accompaniment. This tradition seems to continue even today as mass drill.

Lack of sufficient exercise inevitably leads to diseases of inactivity such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and myocardial infarction. The process of deterioration is slow, but steady — the kind of food that is consumed being the culprit. This and the convenient denial of adequate exercise swing the pendulum towards disease and set the stage for premature morbidity and mortality.

Responsibility

Parents, who have great expectations from their children in their academic pursuits, rarely stress upon the bare minimum of Health Related Fitness (HRF). This could be because they are ignorant of this and the consequence of the lack of physical fitness does not cause any obvious damage for a very long time. When the arrival of the diseases of inactivity is finally announced, it may be too late.

It is thus the responsibility of schools and parents to ensure that children possess a minimum level of physical fitness, even if they are not skilled sports persons. Certain permanent lifestyle changes must be ingrained in children at a young age.

Encouraging students to follow a regular fitness regime will make them active, stress-free and also enhance concentration. Physical education teachers can play a vital role in implementing HRF at school, by motivating students and promoting lifelong fitness.

A sensible balance between academics and fitness is the need of the hour. Parents, who ensure that their children do well in academics, should also sensitise them about being fit and healthy.

Health related fitness should be a family activity, and parents can initiate their wards by motivating them to take part in non-competitive sporting activities. Kids can be allowed to play a game (volleyball, football, tennis or basket ball) that interests them without being under pressure. When parents take their kids along for walking, jogging, cycling or swimming, they also get to spend quality time with them. Such activities can be either a daily activity or a weekend activity. Holidays can also be spent trekking or cycling a distance.

Permanent change

Emphasis should be on Health Related Fitness (exercises that develop heart and lungs, and optimal muscular strength and flexibility) and not just Skill Related Fitness (exercises that develop speed, power, agility, coordination and balance). Interestingly, the 1976 Montreal Olympics 100m champion Hasley Crawford and the 1976 Mr. Universe Roger Walker both failed the Health Related Fitness testing at that time conducted at Dr. Kenneth Cooper's Institute of Aerobics. This proves that even for a world champion, Skill Related Fitness alone is not enough.

The permanent lifestyle change to seek adequate and appropriate exercise must obviously be achieved at the school level itself so that these values get embedded as deeply as the love for cricket. Let the fitness revolution begin.

E-mail the author at kannanpugazhendi@gmail.com

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