The number of universities that require physical education is at a historic low. This trend speaks for itself. Yet NC State is amongst the minority of schools that mandate PE. The NC State GEP requires students to pass two health exercise studies fitness (HESF) classes, any of which can be taken pass/fail. These requirements fail to encourage a lifestyle for students, and as such cannot remain required.
Several studies have proven that health habits develop at a very early age. In fact, for individuals in their 20s to be successful in long-term exercising, there are a number of psychological cues that can help, such as running directly after lacing up your shoes to associate the two or working off a reward system. For some, the idea of exercise itself is reward enough to work out; others, however, require external motivation.
Knowing this, it's not hard to see why a collegiate Step Aerobics class is unlikely to break ingrained habits, at least beyond the semester of the class, and an abrupt exercise routine for someone unfit and less inclined in a class such as Run Conditioning may even deter exercise.
Although our brains continue to develop in our 20s, as young adults, we are past the main developmental stages of grade school, when physical education classes are most foundational and more likely to inspire the integration of exercise into our lifestyles. At this point in our lives, we know how important exercise is, and we make conscious decisions to prioritize this in our lives or not.
It is unnecessary for “higher education” to require us to learn how to play pickleball or perform swim conditioning in efforts to improve our health, especially when every class comes at an additional tuition cost.
As a student, I know that most of us feel like we are merely checking a box on our degree audit when we complete our PE classes. This partially explains the popularity of taking HESF classes pass/fail. However, this grading option allows students to half-heartedly participate, obstructing the purpose of requiring them and impeding any potential substantial benefits for students.
Another reason it is common for students to take HESF courses pass/fail is that some of the more challenging classes offered have unrealistic expectations, and the thought of a PE class hurting our GPAs is frustrating. In my cross-training class, a plank position had to be held for 4 minutes to receive an A. This is virtually impossible for some individuals, particularly if they are in poor shape, and the semester-long span of the course is not necessarily enough time for everyone to improve their fitness levels this dramatically, at least not without some serious dedication outside of the class.
On the flipside of HESF classes with extreme standards, there are also many classes that do not provide workouts of desired intensity or length. Two issues arise from these classes: students purposefully taking the classes they view as the least intense, and students who are already very fit with their own exercise regimes wasting their time. These low-intensity, easy-pass classes take up time and resources that could be allotted for other classes or even just less expensive, more effective forms of exercise.
The result is a counterproductive chain of events. Impossible or ineffectually low standards of required courses practically force students to take the realistic option — or more effortless option, if the class is deemed a waste of time — the pass/fail route. That route, in turn, discourages the dedication required for long-term benefits and nullifies any external incentive that could motivate students (like a small GPA boost).
Advocates of PE classes are right in that a healthy lifestyle can lead to a number of benefits and even improve cognitive function. But a healthy lifestyle isn’t limited to exercise; it also involves factors such as a nourishing diet, adequate sleep and wholesome relationships, all of which are largely choices that we have been educated on for years. Our university doesn’t regulate any other aspect of our lifestyle. Why does it mandate this one?
HESF classes may be appropriate for students aspiring to be health and PE teachers, but not for the majority of students. If the physical and mental benefits of being active, or the convenience of having a gym like Carmichael at our fingertips and a YMCA down the street isn’t motivation enough to be active, forced university classes probably aren't going to do you any good. Exercise is a personal choice, not a proportion of academics, even though it is shown to improve academic achievement. As such, it should not be required by any college, much less ours.