Students neglect physical exercise

Japanese schools are doing poorly at teaching physical education. A new government survey conducted from April to July this year of over 2 million children in Japan found that Japanese students are doing less physical exercise than ever.

A growing number of students surveyed in the fifth grade of primary school and the second year of middle school at public and private schools do absolutely no exercise outside of their physical education classes at school.

According to the survey, 9.9 percent of fifth-grade girls said they did no exercise outside of physical education class. That is double the number from the 2010 survey. The numbers jump for middle school. Just under 25 percent of second-year middle school students reported doing no exercise outside of the required class.

Even students who do exercise are doing much less. Only 53.2 percent of fifth-grade boys said they were physically active for at least seven hours a week, a drop of 7.3 percentage points from the 2010 survey.

With girls, the situation was much worse: Only 26.3 percent of fifth- grade girls reported doing at least seven hours of activity a week, down 4.9 points. Japanese youngsters could be turning into a nation of couch potatoes.

Students were also weaker and less fit than ever before. Students did poorly at a wide variety of activities such as the 50-meter run and repeated sidestepping.

Fifth-grade boys could throw a ball on average two meters less far than in 2008 and roughly seven meters less than the 29.94 meters recorded in 1985.

While ball throwing is not likely to lead to success in life, the tremendous overall decline in physical ability is shocking.

These results signal a looming 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 reduces anxiety levels, helps children sleep better and has been proven to enhance attention spans and academic performance.

The lack of exercise as a habit continuing into adulthood gives partial explanation to the consistently high levels of anxiety and depression among both the young and old in Japan.

At a bare minimum, schools, parents and children themselves should better understand how important a regular exercise regimen is for health and well-being. Perhaps, more importantly, children are losing the very concept of playing and socializing, self-achievement and fair competition that exercise can help instill.

One wonders how much worse Japan’s physical exercise levels will become before the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020. Students need to be required as well as encouraged to do much more physical exercise. The future of the nation’s physical and mental health will depend on it.