Sunday, February 12, 2012

Like many adults, teens struggle with time management, consistency, commitment to healthy living.

At the conclusion of the personal fitness unit I taught in January, I had my 7th and 8th grade students complete a 2-3 page reflection of their health and fitness before starting their personal fitness unit, what they learned during the unit and their goals for after our unit.

Here are some notes I took from their essays:

BEFORE

In their essays, many students discussed their fitness goals of losing weight when they clearly are in a healthy height/weight body range. Many also believe now is the time to start eating less so they can stay thin. One quote in particular struck me as half funny/half alarming: “When I am fully grown up, then I guess I should start to lose weight”. It was funny because obviously not all adults need to lose weight, but this is the perception our students have because they are constantly surrounded by adults, media, etc. talking about weight loss.

In response to reading these opinions, I have invited the school counselor to my classes to talk briefly about body image with our teenage girls.

DURING

I challenged the students to be physically active 1 hour per day. Many students reported their desire to work out with people who are more proficient to push themselves and put more effort in. I really enjoyed reading how some students made new friends and exercised with people outside of the classroom that they didn’t really know very well. Students said they were happy to exercise a lot during PE since it’s cold and dark outside during winter, and it was during a time of rest for after-school sports, and some students were occupied with the play.

Exercising with friends helped students stay focused, engaged, energized.

I taught the girls how to use the kettlebells, and they reported enjoying using them, and that they never knew they existed beforehand. They also reflected on their ease of use and felt stronger each time they practiced.

Plyometric box was also a surprise and a new physical and mental challenge for the girls. Most said it was intimidating at first, but then they felt proud that they could do the jumps.

Stability balls were also a surprise and new challenge for the girls.

Many students enjoyed using the steps for step aerobics and improved their cardio output (based on the heart rate monitors) coordination, and agility.

They liked my high-energy music and it “pumped them up”.

Many students enjoyed using the cardio machines and learning about the weight machines. They felt more confident in their abilities to use equipment in any given fitness center. They reported being happy to increase muscular strength and endurance output. One student even dusted off the set of forgotten dumbbells in her house and did the exercises I taught the class at home.

“They were easy moves to remember, and I was able to do them for longer amounts of time each night”.

Many students also reported improved flexibility from the stretching exercises I taught them to do at home.

“Now I can touch my toes without my leg muscles [hamstrings] hurting”.

I challenged the students to limit their “tech time” to 30 minutes per day. This was time surfing the web, playing games, etc (not true homework time). Most of the girls performed badly in this area. Many earned their “star” less than 10 out of the 31 days, and only scored a few extra days during CNY because they were busy traveling and doing things on vacation. Many students reported difficulty in this area, as they lacked the self-control to stop using their laptops at night. When it was time for bed, many of the girls said they would give themselves “10 more minutes”, but 10 more minutes turned into 30-40 more minutes each time.

I also challenged the girls to get 8 hours of sleep each night, which also proved to be difficult for most (because the laptop was more appealing than going to sleep).

Student quote, “Being tired makes me feel less like exercising and more like eating something full of sugar”.

Student quote, “The calendar Miss Fitz had us complete helped me make small changes to feel healthier, which has transformed my lifestyle”.

Student quote, “The calendar helped me observe my habits and try to figure out ways to change them.”

“The calendar held me accountable and I was determined to ‘star’ the most amount of days possible.”


AFTER

I was pleasantly surprised by the number of girls who enjoy exercising with their mothers. They reported mom’s motivation and companionship kept them on track. They also reported mom’s enthusiasm about sticking to the calendar, since it helped mom keep up with her own fitness goals too.

Limited public spaces to exercise in Jinqiao. Students expressed desire to explore neighborhood. Student quote, “I realized I spend more time inside on my laptop than outside with my dog.” Poor dog!

Some students expressed interest in martial arts/swordfighting/fencing/archery.

Students used sticky note reminders, the Concentrate application, and iCal alarms, even egg/kitchen timers to limit their tech time. Some have asked their parents to stop using their electronics too, so they wouldn’t be influenced on using theirs. Keeping the electronics out of the room when it’s time for bed is a new strategy some students are implementing.

Less tech time increased sleep time!! (wow!) To get 8 hours, they are practicing the 11/7 rule (go to sleep by 11, wake up at 7). Another new strategy to follow is reading a book instead of using the laptop before bed to feel relaxed, instead of wired. Finally, one student has pledged to cut down on sleepovers in a month to avoid staying up too late and then not getting enough sleep.

Exercising 1 hour per day helped students focus on homework.

Student quote, “My friends reminded me to eat fruit instead of chocolate phoenix patty/croissant.”

“I am giving up the chocolate croissant for Lent”. (2nd favorite quote!).

“I found it really hard to make good choices in the cafĂ© because they always have pastries available, but not fruit.”

“I realized I feel better eating fruit and yogurt in the morning”.

Families have been told by students not to buy any more junk food for the household! Some students have even instituted a fruit-only dessert rule!

Family and friend support helped achieved goals. Also, with less tech time, students reported spending more time with their families. They have discovered the joy of cooking healthy meals and establishing healthy habits together. They all worked together to eat more vegetables. One student has discovered eggplant!

The calendar has inspired one student to continue logging healthy habits, but also try logging how much time is needed to do homework and complete it within that amount of time without procrastinating or getting distracted on the internet.

Students discussed the importance of continuing exercise even if their friends stopped playing a sport or taking a fitness class.

Students realized that too much tech time + junk food = tired, sluggish bodies and more sick days from school. One student even admitted that a lack of sleep affects her grades and she ends up falling asleep in class.

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