Hugh Jackman -- known to his fans as Wolverine, Van Helsing, and People's "sexiest man" -- was once a physical education teacher. Just this week, Jackman saw one of his former students at the Zurich Film Festival and reprised his role as gym teacher: "You know what makes me angry?" he asked his former student, now a photographer. "The kind of students who don't jump in the pool when I tell them to."
American youth could learn a lot from Jackman, as it turns out. Physical education classes at school can have a significant effect on physical fitness and overall health. A team of Italian researchers followed three groups of children randomly assigned to one of three gym classes: specialized class A, specialized class B, and control class C. The A and B classes involved tailored strength training and were taught by specialized instructors; the children in the A and B classes scored better on physical performance tests such as the V-sit-and-reach, and the children in the C class gained more weight than children in either of the specialty classes.
In Jackman's own backyard, researchers studied whether giving children a choice in gym class had any effect on their performance. Australian researchers studied children separated into four groups for physical education: one in which the relevance of the classwork was explained, one in which students had some choice as to their activities, one in which students had "free choice" as to their activities, and one control group. Students in the "free choice" group had higher levels of physical activity, and students in both the "choice" and the "free choice" groups had reduced sedentary behavior.
Recognizing that cardiovascular disease begins during the child and teen years, Danish researchers examined the effect of more frequent physical education classes on individuals' health by comparing students receiving two physical education classes per week with students receiving six. At the two-year follow-up mark, students in the increased gym class group fared better in categories such as cardiorespiratory fitness, blood pressure, and insulin resistance. The researchers note that the changes in overall cardiovascular disease risk score were "substantial."