P.E .students stretch during class. The P.E. department is planning to increase the amount of health awareness included in the curriculum in order to combat student stress. Photo by Katie Klein.
P.E .students stretch during class. The P.E. department is planning to increase the amount of health awareness included in the curriculum in order to combat student stress. Photo by Katie Klein.

The P.E. Balance

February 12, 2016

In the near future, the school’s P.E. department will be adding more health-related units in the P.E. curriculum, in response to issues surrounding student stress.

“[The P.E. staff] thinks that it’s important to be well-rounded and have an introduction to all the different kinds of sports, but we also started thinking about what’s going on at Gunn and [Palo Alto] with the suicide rate and the amount of stress that our students are facing,” P.E. department coordinator Kiernan Raffo said. “[We decided that] starting at the end of February, we will be implementing a [new] wellness unit.”

The academic climate of our school and that of schools around us is only becoming increasingly stressful, and giving students the essential tools they need to live healthy and stress-free will now be becoming a part of our P.E. program through this new unit.

“[The new wellness unit] is going to cover strategies that students can use to manage their stress through things like breathing and yoga,” Raffo said. “We are implementing it for the freshmen because [the P.E. department] feels that we can cover the most bodies that way, and I think [the new unit] will really help things as far as student stress is concerned.”

The new wellness unit isn’t all the P.E. department has been thinking about adding either.

“We [have also been] talking about adding a lifetime fitness unit,” Raffo said. “[The idea behind it is to teach students] the different things they can do to be active. [We want to] give kids as many tools as possible so that later on in life they can know what to do to exercise.”

The addition of these new units represent exactly what an optimal P.E. program should be doing. While P.E. should be a way to introduce students to a variety of different sports, bringing them just slightly out of their comfort zone, it should also take on the role of teaching students how to be healthy. Part of this includes helping students deal with the stresses of high school life.

As it turns out, a P.E. class is actually the perfect place to do this, but at first thought, the connection between the P.E. program and relieving student stress might seem a bit strange. The reality is, exercise, especially regular aerobic exercise, can serve as a direct link to reducing the stresses caused by school.

Getting down to the science of it, there are two prominent types of stress — acute and chronic — both of which are extensions of our natural “fight or flight” response. Acute stress is a more “in the moment” type reaction to events and can actually be beneficial by helping us focus on the situation at hand. On the flipside, chronic stress can be very harmful to the body and mind and is what many students are currently dealing with.

Exercise can directly reduce the symptoms of chronic stress and sometimes even reverse its effects. This is mostly due to a benefactor of exercise: endorphins, which are a type of “feel good chemicals” that are released by your nervous system making you relax and eliciting a positive feeling. This, among many other benefits of exercise, has been proven to combine and prevent the negative effects of chronic stress from taking hold.

What it all boils down to is exercise, and this is why the new changes being brought to Los Altos High School’s P.E. program are going to be so beneficial. The new P.E. balance is optimal, because whether you prefer to get hours of aerobic exercise through swimming and biking or the laid-back fun of recreational sports with your friends, getting exercise is something that all of us should aspire to do. The new changes to the P.E. program will be a positive force trying to instill this mindset into students, while working to combat student stress simultaneously. ◊

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