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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Learning to hate exercise in P.E. class

I walk every day, do weight training two to three days a week and go to a weekly Zumba class. In the summer, I swim every day. If my school-age self could see me now, she’d be astounded. Exercising voluntarily!

My goal for elementary school P.E., which I achieved, was to never be picked last for a team. I was a slow runner, but I always knew the rules and the strategy. In an era when girls weren’t supposed to be athletic, I met the very low bar for “good enough.”

This looks exactly like my elementary school gym 1957-62, though it’s not. Credit: U.S. Department of Education archive photo

People who hated gym class tend to hate exercise as adults, concludes an Iowa State survey. P.E. lovers still love to move.

“About two-thirds of adults in the Western world rarely if ever exercise, health statistics tell us,” reports Gretchen Reynolds in the New York Times. Not surprisingly, people who enjoy exercising do more of it.

Iowa State researchers asked adults about their memories of gym class and their physical habits today. The online form asked them to describe their best or worst memory from a P.E. class.

People’s memories of gym class were “vivid and emotionally charged,” the researchers write in the study. Apparently, many people learn to hate physical education in P.E.

Many said that they had hated being chosen late or last for sports teams, or felt embarrassed about bumbling sports performances. Quite a few also reported discomfort undressing in front of other students, and some described bullying and insults, including from gym teachers. Many also said they had dreaded the fitness tests that are common in P.E. programs. Of course, some people harbored pleasant memories of gym classes, often involving athletic success and competence.

My athletic high point came in junior high, when I made the all-star volleyball team. We beat the teachers — on my serve.

In high school, where four years of P.E. were required, I threatened to drop out rather than walk on a balance beam or do a routine on the uneven parallel bars. I was fed up. A good friend had gotten into college after three years of high school. I figured I could do the same. My counselor, a former gym teacher, negotiated a compromise: I walked on the low beam and completed the (mandatory) gymnastics unit and my diploma.

Why do I exercise? Because I enjoy being healthy. And it’s my choice.

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