Bespectacled, fatigued, and gaunt. These are most likely the terms describing the average Chinese student in the eyes of just about anyone. While many perceive them as intelligent (Ruble and Zhang 205), the effects of Chinese schools’ substandard physical education program are harmful; and it is time to change that.
Since the Chinese Economic Reform and the exponential rise of living conditions, Chinese students have been plagued by unhealthiness stemming from strict academics coupled with the absence of physical education, the effects of which are becoming increasingly severe and need to be immediately solved. An article published by The People’s Daily writes that a female college student died after fainting in a 1 km run; another tragedy occurred when a middle schooler fell and died after running a mere 80 meters ([“Student”]). These young, thriving lives perished from the current physical education program’s absolute failure. More broadly speaking, the lack of physical education leaves few students exempt from public health issues, such as obesity. According to China’s official report on its students’ well-being, which is done every five years across more than twenty ethnicities, obesity has been increasing 2-3% every five years ([“Chinese”] qtd. in [“Student”]). This means that if the government takes no action, after one century about half of all students will be obese.
Clearly, moderate exercise needs to be introduced by strengthened physical education programs now.
Not only that, exercising can translate into better academics, which is a crucial part of Chinese culture. According to an article by California College San Diego, moderate exercise, defined as “at least 150 minutes per week,” increases glycogen levels and provides the blood flow needed for academics (“Can”). Moreover, exercise increases the size of the brain. A study by the journal Neurolmage suggests that moderate exercise can increase the size of the hippocampus, a part of the brain associated with memory and learning (Firth, et al. 230). Moderate exercise consumes little time but can increase students’ efficiency of learning. Considering the unchallenged status of academics in Chinese culture, there is little reason not to strengthen physical education programs in Chinese schools.
A common belief held among many parents is that exercise can hinder learning. They contend that the consequences of sustaining an injury can severely decrease a student’s productivity. This is an understandable concern; however, several methods provide practical solutions to the problem, one of such being warming up. Kristian Thorborg, Ph.D., points out that warm-ups can prevent injuries “by improving muscle strength, balance, and coordination.” The University of Copenhagen conducted a study in which participants warmed up using the FIFA 11+ prevention program and played soccer. This reduced injuries by 39% (Thorborg 7). Simply warming up can drastically reduce injuries, while the remaining ones can be solved through simple methods such as monitored play, strict rules, etc. In any case, while completely preventing injuries is impossible, it is very possible to prevent most of them by using the aforementioned methods. Hence, exercise is not a barrier to learning.
Furthermore, exercise makes learning more efficient. According to a study of 1000 people done by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, simply staying active decreased the chances of catching a cold by nearly 50%, while many others who caught a cold reported lower severity (Nieman, et al. qtd. in Roberts). This evinces that simple exercise can significantly reduce the severity of small sicknesses. If students aren’t at home sick, they’re at school learning productively.
Finally, exercise can strengthen character, which can result in more vigorous adolescents in the long run. An example of this would be Chinese sixth-grader Jiang Jing Wei, who wrote in his summer essay about how exercise transformed him, a sedentary boy, into an active student with a determination to succeed. His sweat and newfound purpose in life paid off in his essay; it received full marks (considered remarkable in Chinese schools) and is published on numerous websites. “Through exercising,” Jiang concludes, “I understood that whatever you do, if you persevere you will improve and have the chance to succeed.”
China has reformed many aspects of society, yet no such reforms have reached China’s physical education programs. It’s time to bring Chinese students out into the sunshine and give them a good 150 minutes of exercise per week.
“Can Exercise Boost Your GPA?” California College San Diego, 26 Jan. 2018, http://www.cc-sd.edu/blog/can-exercise-boost-your-gpa-2.
Firth, Joseph, et al. “Effect of aerobic exercise on hippocampal volume in humans: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Neurolmage, vol. 166, 1 Feb. 2018, pp. 230-38
Givens, John Wagner. “A New Look at China: By the Numbers.” HuffPost, 6 Dec.
Ji, Cheng Ye, and Tsung O. Cheng. “Epidemic increase in overweight and obesity in
Chinese children from 1985 to 2005.” International Journal of Cardiology, vol. 132, no. 1, http://www.internationaljournalofcardiology.com/article/S0167-5273(08)00899-1/fu lltext.
Jiang, Jing Wei. “暑假锻炼改变了我” [“Summer Holiday Exercise Changed Me”]. 满分作文网 [Full Score Composition Network], 14 Sept. 2018.
National Institute Of Education Sciences. 中国青少年体质健康发展报告 [Development Report of the Physical Health of Chinese Teenagers].
Nieman, David C., et al. “Upper respiratory tract infection is reduced in physically fit and active adults.” British Journal of Sports Medicine. Abstract.
Roberts, Michelle. “Exercise ‘can prevent a cold’, a study shows.” BBC, 2 Nov. 2010
Ruble, Rachael A., and Yan Bing Zhang. “Stereotypes of Chinese international students held by Americans.” International Journal of Intercultural Relations, vol. 37, 2013, p. 205.
Thorborg, Kristian et al. “Effect of specific exercise-based football injury prevention programmes on the overall injury rate in football: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the FIFA 11 and 11+ programmes.” British journal of sports medicine vol. 51,7 (2017): 562-571. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-097066