Students neglect physical exercise | The Japan Times

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Japanese schools are not very successful in teaching physical education. A new government survey conducted from April to July this year among more than 2 million children in Japan found that Japanese students are exercising less than ever.

An increasing number of pupils surveyed in 5th year of primary and 2nd year of middle school in public and private schools do not exercise at all outside of their physical education classes at school.

According to the survey, 9.9% of girls in fifth grade said they did not exercise outside of physical education class. That’s double the 2010 survey. The numbers jump for college. Just under 25 percent of second year high school students reported doing no exercise outside of the required class.

Even students who exercise exercise significantly less. Only 53.2% of fifth-grade boys said they were physically active at least seven hours per week, a decrease of 7.3 percentage points from the 2010 survey.

With girls, the situation was much worse: only 26.3 percent of girls in fifth grade reported doing at least seven hours of activity per week, down 4.9 points. Young Japanese people could become a nation of couch potatoes.

The students were also weaker and less fit than ever. Students performed poorly in a wide variety of activities such as the 50-meter run and repetitive steps.

Fifth-grade boys could throw a ball an average of two meters shorter than in 2008 and about seven meters shorter than the 29.94 meters recorded in 1985.

While throwing the ball is unlikely to lead to success in life, the overall huge decline in physical ability is shocking.

These results signal an impending health crisis. Without the hour of exercise, including vigorous exercise, which most experts say children need every day, children will have a much higher risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

The benefits of daily exercise are both short and long term. Daily exercise also lowers anxiety levels, helps children sleep better, and has been shown to improve attention span and academic performance.

Lack of exercise as a persistent habit into adulthood partly explains the consistently high levels of anxiety and depression among young and old in Japan.

At a bare minimum, schools, parents and children themselves should better understand how important a regular exercise program is to health and well-being. Perhaps, more importantly, children lose the very concept of play and socialization, personal achievement, and fair competition that exercise can help instill.

One wonders how much physical exercise levels in Japan will worsen ahead of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Students need to be compelled and encouraged to do much more physical exercise. The future of the nation’s physical and mental health will depend on it.

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