Add a Physical Education Requirement at Pepperdine's Seaver College
Add a Physical Education Requirement at Pepperdine's Seaver College
Throughout high school, I always struggled with maintaining habits of exercise. I never found it enjoyable, and whenever I would try to work out, I felt terrible afterward - so, I more or less gave up on it.
A few months before I graduated, though, the COVID-19 lockdown began. And you know what? I consistently exercised for the entire remainder of that year, and actually enjoyed the experience. Why was I suddenly able to accomplish something that year that I had struggled to do for so long?
I wish I could say this was a story about how the changing situation of the pandemic gave me a new resolve and motivation to finally take responsibility for my health - but the truth is much less exciting: I was able to start exercising because my community college had a PE requirement. While I was skeptical at first, having that class to hold me accountable, and having a coach who could help me find ways of exercising that worked for me showed me that it could actually be enjoyable.
At Pepperdine we have no such requirement. Our GE program is extensive, and covers a wide range of topics like humanities and world civilizations, but one of the most important and fundamental skills of life - maintaining basic healthy habits - is nowhere to be seen.
According to the 2018 National Health Interview Survey sponsored by the CDC, only 32.1% of college graduates meet the national guidelines for a healthy amount of physical activity. A 2005 study published in the Journal of American College Health estimated 40-50% of current college students were lacking in physical activity, and based on my survey of this class I found similar results, with about 40% of respondents reporting that they don’t consistently exercise throughout the week.
So, why are we seeing such low numbers? Well, there are certainly quite a few contributing factors, but I want to highlight three of them in particular.
The first issue is that the academic environment of a university doesn’t provide a good incentive for physical activity. In fact, it’s really the exact opposite - the educational system primarily incentivizes sedentary activities, such as attending lectures or studying. This can easily lead students to neglect their physical health, because there’s no reward system in place by default to give them that extra push.
One of the most popular excuses people give for not exercising is that they don’t have time - and the academic workload college students have only furthers that problem.
The second issue I think we need to consider is that, while there are many people who are open or positively inclined to the idea of exercising more, the fact remains that the process of actually forming a habit of it is difficult without any outside intervention.
A 2020 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology identified that two of the most important enabling factors for the formation of long-term healthy habits were consistency and monitoring (accountability). Neither of these things are currently built-in to the student experience at Pepperdine as it pertains to exercise, revealing yet another barrier to a student’s successful formation of healthy habits.
This is of especial concern because of the formative nature of the college years. A 2002 study, published in the journal Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, showed that around 80% of college alumni show similar levels of physical activity six years after graduation as they did in college. A similar trend was observed in a more recent article published in the International Journal of Exercise Science in 2020. This shows how important the habits we form in college really are.
Finally, as I learned during my own journey toward better exercise, exercising in a way that is healthy and maximizes benefit for you can be trickier than it seems. Every person’s body is different, and while we do share a lot in common, our individual needs vary when it comes to exercise. This can make it difficult to find accurate information online about what kind of exercise is best for you.
Phillip B. Sparling, a doctor of exercise physiology who has worked with the CDC and the National Academy of Kinesiology, discusses the importance of proper information regarding physical education in his essay titled College Physical Education: An Unrecognized Agent of Change in Combating Inactivity-related Diseases. He writes, “Physical education should be a requirement because all college students need to know how to be physically active [...] For example, every student should understand the principles of energy balance and know how to implement healthful changes in their eating and exercise behaviors. They should be equipped with the knowledge and analytical skills to navigate through the maze of diet and fitness programs in the marketplace and on the internet.”
This kind of information doesn’t come passively though - it has to be taught.
In order to address these and other issues, I believe we should advocate for the inclusion of a PE requirement as part of our GE program here at Pepperdine. In particular, I propose that the school require 2 semesters of 1-unit activity-based classes dedicated to some form of physical exercise as part of each student’s first year at Pepperdine.
I truly believe that even something as simple as this would be a big step toward addressing the issues I just described. Firstly, by incorporating physical activity as a required component of a student’s academic success, it incentivizes and rewards healthy levels of physical activity, while also acting as a reminder to students that success in life is about more than just knowledge.
It also provides a system for consistency and accountability that would aid students in developing exercise as a habit.
And finally, it would provide access to knowledgeable instructors who can help students find their way through the vast amount of information regarding exercise, and develop fitness routines that maximize the benefits they receive.
Not only does it address these issues, but the measure would also align quite well with Pepperdine’s goals as an institution. Part of Pepperdine's mission is to prepare students for lives of purpose, service, and leadership. These aren’t career goals, they’re matters of lifestyle. It seems appropriate to me that a school which places such an emphasis on the lifestyles of its students would require classes that are designed to help them take care of their health, which is critical to any aspect of their lives.
A PE requirement in college, for many, could represent a turning point in their relationship to exercise like it did for me. I think everyone should have that opportunity.
If you support this measure, please consider signing this petition, which will be sent to Pepperdine's General Education Review Committee on completion.