Sports, Physical Activity and Fitness for Adolescents

The purpose of this literature review is to look at what has been done concerning the benefits and negatives of sports, fitness, and physical education for adolescents. Substantial reduction of physical education, sports activities, and programs in many schools across the United States is a case to worry about (Davis, 1999). This has been done due to pressure to cut down financial spending and the need to improve the overall educational performance of students by making them achieve better test scores. Despite reliable tests which have proven that adolescents and children who are physically fit and active in sports have shown better performance in class, the reports are yet to be put into practice. The health of adolescents can be improved since this co-curricular learning environment makes them alert physically, psychologically, and emotionally.

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The Surgeon’s General report of the US approximates that about 33% of the 25 million middle-class going children suffer from obesity or overweight problems (Elkins et al, 2004). Obesity affects the health of most American children more than anywhere else. Recommendations by the surgeon general are that the children and adolescents should engage in an hour of physical exercise about once per day. An estimation that was done recently shows that about 3.4% of schools across America offer programs for physical activities and exercise (Elkins et al, 2004). Everyone should be wary of this since it is a proven fact that just as smoking cause lung cancer so does physical inactivity cause obesity. Participation in sport and bodily activity participation outside the regular curriculum of education in the physical field has great advantages for adolescents when reasonable policies of education and quality leadership are put in place.

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), all students must be provided with an opportunity to participate in ample variety of well structured physical activities and sports through school or community formed clubs, inter-school activities, intramurals (within the school competition) co-curriculum activities (Buckworth and Dishman, 2002). All these programs should be focused on the students in such a way that they will take care of the student’s needs and interests for the good of their well-being. The middle schools that these young adolescents attend should offer safe and quality facilities, the leadership of the highest quality, and appropriate by all standards. All the leaders of any activity should be well trained in first aid and basically all the procedures concerning safety and emergencies. This is in accordance with the standards dictated by the National School-Age Care Alliance in the paper- NSACA Standards for Quality School-Age Care (NSACA, 1998). They have all the guidelines for giving children and adolescents co-curricular and physical activities in a safe and sound environment (Gard and Wright, 2005).

The several benefits that adolescents gain from physical fitness are having better motor skills and being fit physically. Their normal growth both physically and socially is faster. In the same field, research should be done to determine whether genetic factors have any correlation with their physical and social well-being. A study conducted in 2005 established that adolescents who hail from families that have medium to high Socio-Economic Status (SES) are more likely to continue with the physical education that they earn from school than those who come from families with lower SES (Coakley and White, 1992). Those who came from families with medium SES would be allowed to assess the games and facilities. Those from a lower SES income could not be allowed to play since their surroundings are considered unsafe for outdoor activities. This structural factor has considerably affected the kind and intensity of exercises that adolescents participate in (Timperio et al, 2004). However, a study should be conducted to test if for one to develop an active lifestyle one should have a good financial backup. This contradicts exercises like aerobics which can be practiced in the house and do not require a lot of capital. Also in the social arena, most young people engage in sports as a source of cohesion and belonging (Scully et al, 1998). This they do get from their parents, peers, coaches, and fellow schoolmates through their practical involvement. Peer influence will dictate the company of the adolescents and boost their level of participation since it encourages their recognition in a group. Most adolescents if eliminated out of a peer group especially in sports and physical activity tend to lose their self-esteem and self-perception. A study should be further conducted to investigate how motivational factors affect the participation of adolescents in sporting activities. Also, research should be done to examine the effect of the existent laws on the participation of adolescents in sport.

Most adolescents that engage in these physical exercises tend to attain early maturity than those who do not. Sport and physical fitness is a great opportunity for increasing more mature ethical logic skills which are characterized by an increase in assertion, reduced aggression, and more conformity with fair play and the system (Stephens and Bredemeier, 1996). Sport prepares children for team leading skills and group participation. Some adolescents prefer games that have a high competition while others prefer games that have a very low competitive process and require little understanding. (Passer, 1988). These adolescents tend to have better self-esteem and better self-perception. A review that was conducted in Ireland showed that whenever adolescents are provided with adult leadership that is of high quality, they tend to develop a better behavior socially when in sporting places or activities and this they will extend to their lives outside school (De Knopp et al, 1999). They tend to appreciate challenges more and get to learn more about leadership (Scully et al 1998). Contrary to this, the way they are handled may have a negative effect on their self-esteem. Most girls have shown that they require more guidance than boys since this has a big effect on their self-esteem (Alfermann and Stoll, 2000). The way they are corrected has a big impact on their self-esteem. This is because, at the stage of adolescence, girls are confused about their emerging gender identity. This is when they struggle to be accepted by their peers. They are also trying to come to terms with their “own personal self-concept”(Alfermann and Stoll, 2000). Their physical appearance and the way they are perceived socially really affects their capability of interacting with the opposite sex and education. Their skills in music and extracurricular activities give them some recognition and social status among their peers. A study should be done concerning the changing parental role in society as related to the participation in sports and physical activity. This is in accordance with the recent increase in divorce, single parents’ cases in society. This leaves the young adolescents to work in order to provide for their families or take care of their siblings as their single parents work. This other than participation in sports may affect the self-esteem of adolescents. This is because some of them may drop out of the school activities or favorite sports activities and hence lag behind in the fitness classes.

The socialization level of adolescents who participate in sports is improved greatly while their well-being psychologically becomes healthier. They also tend to establish a strong base of commitment to lifelong physical activity and a lifestyle that is healthy. A survey that was conducted by the Sports Council of Ireland on 2500 adolescents revealed a lot concerning sport and physical activity continuity into adulthood (De Knopp et al 1999). It showed that 25% of the adolescents rated their school influence as their greatest motivation to continue with the sports while 30% said that the influence they got at school is the one that fostered the sport that they have great interest in. However, after school, most adolescents tend to engage in activities that demand less of their involvement physically (De Knopp et al 1999). Therefore a study should be conducted to show why they move into less demanding physical activities. Many diverse views are generated about the value and the need for participation in these sports. The leaders sometimes are responsible for misdirecting views since they lose the main aim of the educational purpose of the programs. This is because some sports activities may not be cut according to the need and interests of the participants. This may show their liking or dislike for physically strenuous activities that they could have had participated in due to peer influence or force from their leaders. The Centers for Disease Control (2002), research shows that co-curricular activities for adolescents can help them in building and consequently maintaining healthy joints and bones and having muscular fitness (Frederick and Morrison, 1996). They can also be able to avoid being overweight by doing fat-burning exercises making them lean and able to control their weight. One of the major advantages of participating in physical activity for adolescents is that they get leaner and less fatty (Elkins et al, 2004). Adolescents with more fat tend to have higher cholesterol levels and low-density lipids which are thought to be causing high blood pressure (Williams et al, 1992). Adolescents with high levels of cholesterol tend to have a higher level of the same even in their adult lives. A combination of a low or cholesterol-free diet and some exercise may lead to normal blood pressure and reduce the dangers of blood clotting. The problem of having inappropriate body weight has increased now more than ever and more especially in girls. Regular exercise is very important in maintaining an average control of body weight. Exercises can also reduce the increased case of non-insulin dependent case of diabetes

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To some level, physical activity can prevent the development of hypertension and high blood pressure in adolescents. Exercises can also help in the reduction of anxiety attacks, depression periods. This enhances the ability of these students to relate well with others, improve their moods and enhance their ability to perform well in other fields. This may lead to them having a good active lifestyle physically which they will carry into their adult lives and pass it on to the younger generation.

Everything has its own side effects and sport is not an exception. Organized sports have their dark side as warned by so many authorities (Davis, 1999). One of the few problems is that the educational priorities of a student are distorted in a way. They tend to feel good physically which boosts their performance in school. Students tend to concentrate more on sports and forget about their classwork and other responsibilities in life. In recent times, about five experimental studies which are controlled have been carried out in the United States (Buckworth, 2002). These experiments have tried to analyze the effect of physical activity on the academic performance of students. Even though more time was allocated to the usual instructional time for physical activity there was little improvement in performance. This showed that there was no need of sacrificing excellence in academics for sports. In the year 2006, a study was conducted on 214 seventh-grade Michigan students (Buckworth, 2002). The study showed that students who received an hour less of their daily instruction time for the classroom had the same standardized scores as those who had enrolled in physical education classes. These studies have some serious gaps in them. Another study needs to be conducted on the subjects that received less instructional time and the kind of activities that the physical activity students had enrolled in. The study also needs to show the test scores and compare them with the previous results when students did not have physical education. This is contrary to a study done in 2006 by the Active Research Foundation on 12,000 adolescents (Timperio et al, 2004). The report showed that adolescents who participated in school sports activities, team sports, physical education or engage their parents in some sort of physical activity showed that they had a better chance approximately by 20 percent to perform better and have an ‘A’ in Mathematics score or English grade.

There have been reports of injuries, excessive burnouts, and loss of identity of persons who tend to overspecialize in a certain sport (Kremer, 1997). They desire so much to achieve, set the records that they forget about the physical well-being of their body. This desire to get everything right has led to an increase in psychological stress, and a rise in rates of injury (Buckworth, 2002).

In recommending physical activity for the different genders one should ensure that they should be for the intended purpose of making one fit rather than causing injury (Kremer, 1997). Inappropriate use of exercise, excessive exercising has made so many people injure themselves and even hurt their self-esteem because the results may be negative at times. Physical activity has been found to be gendered in nature. Most women tend to associate their bodies with the aesthetic value that they want to portray to society while men associate their bodies with speed, coordination, and strength (Buckworth, 2002). The emphasis on the form that the female body should have has caused a disorder called the “social feeling anxiety” (Raglin, 1997). In the end, it exerts a lot of constraining when one is engaging in physical activity. Female Athlete Triad (FAT) is another disorder linked to women and exercise (Davis, 1999). This begins developing when they are young girls and goes on into their later lives. Young female adolescents who suffer from FAT strictly exercise while eating little and this leads to osteoporosis, irregular monthly periods, and anorexia (Kramer &Wells, 1996).

Females also tend to score lower on self-confidence concerning their bodies. Research should be conducted to see if family background influences their level of self-esteem, self-perception more than participation in physical activity. Other studies have shown that taking exercises to increased levels may delay the onset of menarche (menstrual cycle) which could be advantageous especially in the reduction of ovary and breast cancer since these cancers are dependent on estrogen. (Kramer and Wells, 1996).

The values and concepts of fairness have been lost over time leading to distorted views concerning what is for and what is not (Kremer, 1997). We cannot help but acknowledge how young men are risking their lives and bodies and end up getting disorders that are related to exercises. This includes muscle dysmorphia or where they want particular muscles to be defined especially biceps, triceps, and chest muscles (Raglin, 1997). Whenever these muscles do not give them the socio-acceptance they expected, they often result in using other drugs so that they can “fit in”. Research should be conducted to examine the relation between the use of drugs and physical fitness in adolescents.

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A study conducted in schools across the US showed that most adolescents are being forced to use steroids since the exercises are strenuous, demanding, and require so much time and energy (Alfermann and Stoll, 2000). This study left out some gaps since it did not suggest the involvement of parental pressure in making adolescents consume these drugs (De Knopp, 1999). Parents could be the biggest motivational factor in indirectly forcing the adolescents to use the steroids since their appreciation for physically smart kids is unconcealed at times. For instance, they may compare their kids to boxing greats like Mike Tyson which to some extent force an adolescent to take the steroid so as to fit in the parent’s fantasy. Also, the study should have focused on the loopholes in the law concerning the selling of steroids to young adolescents or the availability of steroids for young boys and girls (Olivardia and Pope, 2000).

A research carried out showed that physical exercises induce more production of the hormone required for growth (Stager et al 1990). However, these studies showed the intensity of training could induce the stimulation of the growth hormone/Insulin Growth factor-1 axis (Stager et al 1990). High training intensity would lead to an increase in the modulation of metabolism, increase the inflammatory markers and suppress the GF/IGF-1 axis (Shephard, 1984).

But these modalities of the sport only selected children or adolescents who had short stature. This is one of the shortcomings in the method used that needs to be addressed. The next research should work on adolescents of mixed stature, health status, and various weights. This is more practical since the population has all these mixed and it is variable. Also, the intensity of the exercises should be highly varied and the GF/IGF-1 axis measured accordingly.

The immune system has not been left out in the study of the impact of physical activity on the body. Research that has been conducted in the last 12 years has shown that regular exercises can help in boosting the body’s ability to fight disease through the immune system’s function (Freedson and Bunker, 1997). This improved capability to maintain healthiness seems to be linked to increasing interferon interleukin-1, natural killer cells, circulating lymphocytes, and other protective bodies like granulocytes. (Kramer and Wells, 1996). The increase of macrophages and monocytes serves to prevent viral causing diseases like influenza. They may even help in the retardation of aberrant cells, for example, cancer. (Newsholme and Parry-Billings, 1994). This may not be so always. Other studies have contradicted this. Adolescents who participate in group activities like being in the band or any other strenuous activities may be more susceptible to infections. This may be attributed to the reduction in the activity of natural killer cells and other protective bodies while at rest (Nieman, 1994). This may make them get more infections than usual and at higher rates (Shephard, 1984).

References

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Buckworth, J. and Dishman, R. K. (2002). Exercise Psychology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

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Elkins, W. L., Cohen, D. A., Koralewicz, L. M. and Taylor, S. N. (2004). After school activities, overweight, and obesity among inner city youth. Journal of Adolescence, 27, 181 – 189.

Kremer, J. (1997). Introduction. In J. Kremer, K. Trew, & S. Ogle (Eds.), Young people’s involvement in sport. London: Routledge.

Kramer, M.M. and Wells, C.L. (1996). Does physical activity reduce risk of estrogen dependent cancer in women? Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 28, 322-334.

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