Obesity is now a Malaysian epidemic. Even worse, it is obesity in children that is rising at a staggering rate. The number of overweight children has risen so much that the government had to take action, making it compulsory education policy for every student in school take part in at least one sport.

Our children these days are generally unfit. Lifestyle changes have made sure of that. Our kids may still be playing soccer and tennis, but these days it is sadly more likely to be on the phone than on the field. There is even an app for sprinting… with your fingers!  And the smartphone mania is reaching our kids at a younger and younger age.

Our children hardly do anything physical these days; they hardly walk anywhere; they don’t play hopscotch in the garden anymore.  We are concerned about the weight of their school bags and that the sun is too hot and it’s too dangerous outside. Our kids get their daily resistance training taken away from them when we take all the heavy books out of their school bags. Our kids get their cardiovascular endurance taken away from them because it’s too dangerous to let them walk anywhere. Most of our kids are so unfit that they cannot run away fast enough or jump far enough away from the same perpetrators that we are trying to protect them from.

As for sports, who needs them?  Many Moms and Dads didn’t do any sports and they are none the worse for it! True, I myself didn’t do any sports in school but I walked to school with all my textbooks in primary school and cycled 5 miles to secondary school for years. I had to change my school bags frequently because the strap couldn’t take the weight of the books; today we change our kids’ bags because it’s a new term.

Are PE classes in school sufficient?  Sadly, they are not. There are two to three 35-40 minute periods a week allocated, shared between health and physical education. The proof?  In one local school, 1,900 students between the ages of 13 -18 took part in the long jump and the 100m. Their average 100m speed was 18.5 seconds and their average long jump was 2.00m. A fit 11 year old girl should be jumping 5m and sprinting the hundred in 13 seconds. Our kids may learn about fitness and games, among many other things, but they won’t be doing fitness frequently enough to be life changing.

So should our kids go to the gym?
Our kids should definitely exercise.  They need endurance for their study schedule alone. They need strength for protecting themselves in emergencies. They need flexibility so that they remain versatile to try new physical adventures in their growing years. Sports are character building, good fun and a great way of socialising.

But when sports are deemed too dangerous, it is too unhealthy to play ‘outside’, parents are too busy, school PE insufficient, what alternatives do we have but the gym for our kids?  Better the climate-controlled regimen of the gym than nothing at all.
In the end, our kids need the exercise.

Lim Eng Hooi is a teacher in a secondary school in Samarahan and a very experienced and highly successful track and field coach. Since taking over again as the head coach of the Sarawak Schools Track and Field Team, the Sarawak Team has returned as national overall champs every year since 2009.  Rain or shine, Lim will be at the Kuching Waterfront, every Sunday at 6.00am, helping people to enjoy sweating and being fit!

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