Fit for Life: The Benefits of Physical Education
What do you need to live a healthy life? It’s no secret that physical activity is one of the cornerstones of wellbeing. What’s even more apparent is that to establish good habits into adulthood, it helps to start them young.
According to the Physical Activity Council’s 2017 Physical Activity Council Report, around 80 percent of currently active adults had physical education (PE) classes in school, while almost 40 percent of inactive adults had no PE growing up. Childhood trends can lead to some serious outcomes later in life: lack of exercise has been linked to obesity, and leads to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and many other ailments.
Simply moving around as a child has tremendous benefits later on in life, and physical education classes in school are without a doubt the best way to solidify good habits at a young age.
However, how do teachers engage students in an environment that increasingly encourages sitting and not moving?
Taking Culture into Account
For Brandon Dewes, Head of PE at the Australian International School (AIS), teaching physical education classes in Ho Chi Minh City differs from his homeland in New Zealand mainly because of the interests of students—most likely affected by Vietnam’s hot climate.
“Coming from New Zealand, it’s more of an outdoor environment,” he reasons. “Young people spend a lot of time outdoors, and we have a lot of green spaces. You come here and it’s different.”
Since young people in Vietnam aren’t generally in the habit of daily physical activity, which has led to a recent rise in childhood obesity, the challenge for Dewes and the four other PE instructors at AIS has become making physical activity fun and interesting, while also encouraging healthy habits that involve spending time outdoors (with plenty of water available!).
For example, Dewes and his team have branched outside the traditional sports box to appeal to the widest group of students possible.
Rather than just focusing on football, badminton and basketball, Dewes says that most children like discovering games and activities they’ve never heard of before, like ultimate frisbee, cricket and hockey, along with swimming, a skill that will benefit them well beyond their school years.
As AIS’s Executive Principal Dr. Roderick Crouch notes, “Our PE program not only supports children developing healthy lifestyle habits which benefit their learning, but also provides practical life skills, in that all children learn to swim.”
Probably the best example of engaging kids with unusual sports would be with one such activity: Omnikin. This little-known Canadian sport is played with a gigantic inflatable ball, which battling teams fight to keep from hitting the ground. (Think: Xtreme Beach Volleyball.) Games like this encourage concentration, stamina and teamwork.
More than Just Exercise
In Vietnam, a country that places a high amount of emphasis on academic learning, physical education can sometimes take a sideline. And this perception is what Brandon Dewes has been working to alter. “Students [at AIS] are really driven academically, which is fantastic,” he says.
“But for us it’s reminding them that they still need to have a balance and to take time away from their study.”
Although it might seem like taking time to play sports instead of study would be counterproductive for high-achieving students, studies have shown that the opposite is actually the case. “I think it does a lot for young people just to help them clear their head a little bit,” he says. Rather than take attention away from academics, even minimal daily physical education actually refocuses attention.
Physical activities, especially at a young age, do much more than just build muscle and stamina. PE also strengthens leadership skills, teamwork capacities and communication and problem solving abilities. When you’re throwing around an Omnikin ball, for example, it’s all about lending a helping hand—not standing out.
To be successful after graduation, after all, teamwork is often as important as independent working.
Brandon Dewes is currently on his third year at the Australian International School, and for him it’s all about improving attitudes about physical education. While there might not be as many hiking trails in Ho Chi Minh City as in his native New Zealand, he’s here to show kids that being active is easily done, and entirely beneficial.
Address: Australian International School | 264 Mai Chi Tho, D2
Phone: +84 28 3742 4040
Image source: AIS