Dismiss the myth

14th May 2004 at 01:00
This has been quoted a lot over the years and it simply means exercise has to hurt to do you any good. While there might be truth in this for highlevel athletes, it doesn't hold true for most of the population. It's certainly not the message or experience PE teachers should be giving children.

The promotion of healthy and active lifestyles is now widely recognised as a key goal of PE. Given this, plus the growing concerns over children's physical activity, fitness and health in recent years, it is perhaps not surprising that many PE teachers have felt under pressure to tackle these concerns head on. In their well-meaning efforts to get children more active through PE, the "no pain, no gain" message may, to some, have seemed wholly appropriate.

However, "no pain, no gain" advocates a hard-line approach to exercise that typically involves undesirable and inappropriate practices for children, such as forced fitness regimes and fitness testing, "hard" exercise such as arduous cross-country running or dull, repetitive drill-type activities.

These practices are guaranteed to turn most children off physical activity for life, and they may be at the expense of developing the knowledge, understanding and skills necessary for enjoying an active lifestyle. In order to influence children's physical activity through PE, their activity experiences must be varied, enjoyable, positive, meaningful and most of all - painless!

A "no pain, no gain" approach in PE is also misguided for other reasons.

Over the years there has been a shift away from hard training to improve fitness, towards enjoyable participation in activity for health. The good news is that exercise needn't be strenuous for it to do us good. Moderate levels of physical activity (equivalent in intensity to brisk walking) can reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity and improve mental health. Further more, because moderate intensity activity feels comfortable, it can be performed for longer. This is significant as the total amount of energy expended is the important factor for health and weight management, not intensity.

Moderate activity is also safer, more achievable and therefore more likely to appeal to children. It is also reflected in the Health Development Agency's exercise guidelines, which recommend young people participate in exercise of at least moderate intensity for one hour a day. The real message then, and one that is likely to be more attractive and acceptable to children, is that exercise doesn't have to hurt to do you good.

So, let's get the message right, the facts straight, and dispel the myth once and for all.

Lorraine Cale is director of PE teacher education at Loughborough University.

This is the third of 10 myths to be dismissed this term.

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