Students learn benefits of lifetime fitness when PE teachers demonstrate healthy habits in class
Health and physical education teachers see participation levels spike when they introduce their favorite lifetime fitness activities to their students.
“Even though I’m in the health classroom, I’m constantly bringing in who I am and what I do and trying to set an example that these kids can buy into and continue with for the rest of their lives,” said Lindsay Yost, a health teacher at Fort Lupton Middle School in Colorado.
Yost’s “do as I do” approach stresses how important it is for her students to find an activity they connect with. A heptathlete in college, Yost tried her hand at several things to maintain her active lifestyle before she discovered downhill mountain bike racing. Among the sports she’s tried are:
- Distance running
- Road cycling
She didn’t enjoy the distance running after sprinting her way through college, and triathlons didn’t stick because “swimming is not my forte,” but she enjoyed her training time on the bicycle. When a speaker at a professional development seminar laid out a mountain biking unit, she was intrigued both as a teacher and an athlete.
“The mountain bike unit intrigued me,” she said. “I’d never ridden mountain bikes.”
Yost looked into the unit, received permission from her principal to utilize trails near the school and enjoyed the dual role of teacher and student as she introduced her class to mountain biking.
“It was awesome because I learned to ride right along with the kids,” she said. “Then it evolved from there.”
For Yost, mountain bike racing became a second career – she won a U.S. championship in 2013 and has spent her summers since coaching and racing — and a lifetime fitness activity. With her health students, she strives to help them find an activity that resonates with them the way biking connected with her, whether it’s mountain biking, distance running, basketball or something different. The health teacher points out to her students how the body reacts chemically when it connects a healthy activity with an enjoyable one.
“When you combine exercise with something that you love and are passionate about, something that’s exciting, it releases adrenaline as well,” she said. “I tell them that no matter what physical activity they choose, they need to find something they are passionate about that they can continue for a lifetime.”
“We’re trying to get more life-long activities in our classes,” Enos said. “We want to help them find their niche, find activities they can participate in on their own time and develop more active lifestyles.”
Both teachers enjoy running for their own personal fitness, and when Enos discovered a network of trails adjacent to the school, she and Rich approached the administration about taking students off campus for runs during class. Now they implement a running unit where they run alongside students on the nearby trails.
“I was thinking about how much I enjoy running, how much Meghan enjoys running and how we want the kids to enjoy it a little more than they way they do now,” Rich said. “We started looking at ways we could make it more realistic and engage them long-term.”
In a community with a number of distance running events and fun-runs, the teachers wanted to show students there is a different side of running than what the do during fitness assessments.
“The only kind of running, other than playing a sport, that they do is the mile run [during fitness testing],” Rich said. “They run so fast that they die out so quickly. Learning how to pace themselves and use their target heart rate so they can be working in their zone is very important.”
Incorporating heart rate training into their biking and running is also a key educational aspect that both Fort Lupton and Nichols students benefit from. Yost’s students use IHT Zone wrist heart rate monitors, and Rich and Enos are in the process of adding the same monitors to their programs. The monitors, the teachers say, will help students understand what it takes to maintain their lifetime fitness levels for the long term.
“The kids having this technology so young is very exciting,” Yost said. “They’ll be able to take that knowledge and use it as an adult. Whether they are trying to run a 5K or cycling or doing triathlons or playing a pickup basketball game, whatever it may be, as an adult, having the knowledge and the desire to know how a heart rate monitor works will be a huge skill set that they can carry on with them.”