In 1920, almost all U.S. colleges had physical education requirements. By 1970, it was about 70 percent. In 2013, CPHHS kinesiology professor Brad Cardinal and his colleagues published a study that found that number had plummeted to about 40 percent.
Oregon State University is included in the 40 percent, requiring undergraduate students to take three fitness credits as part of its Baccalaureate Core curriculum. Students take Lifetime Fitness for Health (HHS 231) for two credits and choose from a variety of Physical Activity Courses (PAC) for one credit.
Brad says that OSU’s physical education requirements are fulfilling a critical education need and that they align with ideas stated in the original 1950 report by Harvard University’s committee on general education. The report says, “The school will be concerned with the health of its pupils, both physical and mental. The human body must be healthy, fit for work, able to carry out the purposes of the mind …”
“OSU’s combination of conceptual and skill-based courses is regarded as the most appropriate approach,” Brad says. “It blends the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ in an effort to maximize students’ immediate and long-term success and learning.”
There are nearly 250 PAC courses offered this fall, and about 18,000 students take a PAC class each year. With such a wide variety of classes to choose from – activities as diverse as bowling, surfing, billiards and fly fishing – there’s something for everyone.
“We have such a wide range of classes, it’s almost hard to list them all,” says PAC director Drew Ibarra.
“You can do dancing, sports, aquatics, fitness training, yoga, martial arts, rowing, even rock climbing. I encourage students to ask a fellow student what class they liked, or to try something new that they’re curious about.”
Drew says that he believes that OSU’s physical education requirement helps students’ physical and mental well-being.
“There are numerous studies pointing to the benefits of physical activity, including making good grades, reducing anxiety and depression, and developing character and identity,” he says.
“I think one of the most important contributions of the physical activity requirement is the ability to create social networks around healthy behaviors. We care less about what activity students choose and more about developing their personal identity around developing lifelong movement into their life.”
In Lifetime Fitness for Health, students cover four main topic areas – physical activity promotion, nutrition education, health behavior change and mental well-being.
CPHHS clinical assistant professor Erica Woekel says that while these topics are covered in-depth, students also learn strategies to implement the knowledge. Developing these skills helps them put these important topics into practice.
“If you’re not physically or mentally healthy and well, you’re not going to be able to go to class, finish your degree, graduate and move into an occupation you enjoy,” she says. “This would definitely impact your quality of life, which is why this requirement is great because it’s modeling OSU’s focus and importance of creating a well-rounded person and graduate.”
Brad, who’s never missed a day of exercise since Oct. 1, 2009, says that students can continue their fitness habits after their college years with the proper mindset and simple routines.
For example, those who work a desk job may find it challenging to incorporate physical activity into their daily routine.
“Desk workers can try many different things,” Brad says. “Some set reminders to move about for three to five minutes every hour. Some are trying standing desks, standing on unstable surfaces, siting on physioballs instead of traditional chairs and even walking workstations.
Other things people might try include walking when running errands or communicating with a colleague instead of calling or emailing, riding a bicycle ergometer while waiting for photocopies and having walking meetings instead of sitting in an office or lab.”
Drew says that another major component of developing lifelong fitness habits is finding activities you enjoy.
“It’s less about the fitness component and more about continued participation in whatever physical activity brings you joy,” he says. “If fitness is your thing, that is great as it will bring great physiological health benefits. If your thing is outdoor recreation, researchers have found equally impressive health benefits from just being outside.”
When you boil it down, moving is the key component to any type of physical activity, and enjoyment makes it something you want to do, not have to do.
“My default is to choose to move,” Brad says. “I take pride in simple habits, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. My behavior might even influence others through the process of role modeling.
It’s imperative to seek out and take advantage of any and all physical activity opportunities that present themselves. As the expression goes, ‘If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.’”