"Why does it do that?" is a question I often get when one of our athletes comes up with a back spasm. "Why are my hamstrings so tight?" "Why does it always pull in my calf?" "Why does my lower back hurt, I'm young, and strong?"
These are questions I've thought of myself, and I always get similar answers: Yes, you're an athlete, and you're in "good shape" by most standards. You come to practice and practice your heart out for two hours, five days a week. But let's break down the rest of your day:
8am - 3:00 pm Sitting. At school.
5:30 - 10:00 pm Probably sitting, watching TV, working on homework.
Then, the line I repeat almost every day as I work with patients at our clinic: Improper sitting destroys the spine.
For that reason, I blame many of the physical abnormalities I see in our young based on the environment their forced into during school. Yes, children should be able to pay attention to a teacher for hours. I'm serious, the ability and art of focus should be taught and practiced day in and day out. What I'm against is the constant, chronic sitting, slouching, slooping forward. We're destroying spines and bodies, and as a result, we're destroying minds. What the body does, the mind follows.
Parents, read this book:
I'll give you the low down on what happens. Ratey, MD, a psychologist and professor at Harvard Medical School, chronicles what happens to children's brains as exercise was introduced religiously into a highschool in Chicago, Naperville Central High School
"...latest in a long line of educational experiments conducted by a group of maverick physical education teachers who have turned the nineteen thousand students in Naperville District 203 into the fittest in the nation — and also some of the smartest.
"It’s no coincidence that, academically, the district consistently ranks among the state’s top ten, even though the amount of money it spends on each pupil — considered by educators to be a clear predictor of success — is notably lower than other top-tier Illinois public schools... Its per-pupil operating expense in 2005 was $8,939 versus $15,403 at Evanston’s New Trier High School. New Trier kids scored on average two points higher on their ACT college entrance exams (26.8)"
Ratey, John J. (2008-01-10). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (p. 13). Hachette Book Group. Kindle Edition.
What is it that this school is doing so differently? A zero hour PE class where students are graded on individual physical performance metrics — e.g. you must keep your heart rate up to a certain amount during an entire mile. Then, after zero hour PE, kids take their toughest academic assignments. Have a tough test? You take it then.
Not only that, but chairs are replaced with exercise balls, treadmills, and stationary bikes. Got a ADHD-like kid that can't sit still? Try making his legs pump a stationary bike when you give him a lecture and notice the difference.
These are all changes that could be done in Farmington, and I think it would help our kids be all around healthier. If you read that book, one of the most frightening things is how dependent brain growth is on physical activity; this is scary because of how little activity our children get in school. Remember, the track athletes I work with are they by choice. Athleticism is an "elective," by most school standards.
But is it?