Girl Power: How Teens Are Changing the Face of Fitness
The benefits of fitness-related activities are undeniable: Studies show that participation helps girls get stronger, stay leaner, and focus better in school. Yet according to a new report by the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota, adolescent girls drop out of organized team sports at higher rates than boys. (The study cites an increased emphasis on competitiveness as a deterrent.) Nor are these girls finding a fitness outlet in gym class: Only Massachusetts and Illinois now require PE for grades K-12. Without a mandate, motivation to sign up for gym as an elective class is low: Girls' enrollment drops from 70 percent in grade 9 to 32 percent in grade 12.
The sunnier news: A growing number of public and private schools are recognizing what clubs like Underground Fitness have seen -- that "fun" goes a long way toward reconnecting girls with a more active lifestyle. At the all-female Castilleja School in Palo Alto, California, for example, an old gymnasium was recently rebuilt to include cardio machines, a rock-climbing wall, and a yoga studio. "After school, the place is packed," says Zoe Kornberg, 18, who graduated in June. "Senior year, everyone is stressed about getting into college. Going home and doing homework in front of the TV just fries your brain more. Working out for an hour makes me more motivated to tackle whatever I'm going to do next."
Fitness innovations are also under way at Wilson Classical High School in Long Beach, California. The new PE program is the brainchild of instructor Ruth Mohr-Silofau, who took action after reviewing student fitness scores from her classes in 2004 and finding them "horrific." The lack of enthusiasm for familiar games like volleyball and softball was obvious. So she applied for a grant to teach a pilot program based on a health-club model of cardio, strength training, and running. "It took off like wildfire," she says. Sasha Malbrough, an 18-year-old senior, was one of the many students to get hooked. "When I was younger, I played soccer, but I got bored by middle school, dropped out, and gained weight," Sasha says. Upon joining Mohr-Silofau's program in ninth grade, she discovered running and biking. She's since competed in two 5K running races and two bike marathons -- and lost 60 pounds. "This program appeals to me more than the usual sports because success and failure are totally dependent on the effort I put into it," she says. "And that makes it fun."
There's that word again. According to the Tucker Center report, three studies between 1995 and 2005 found that "fun" was the most prevalent reason girls give for participating in a sport. If the type of activity a girl does is less important than that she enjoys it, then "the more outlets we give girls, the better," says study researcher Nicole LaVoi, PhD. "Traditional sports are largely about outperforming others," which may not appeal to girls. What they do like: activities that offer a social outlet or allow self-comparison. "Learning to master a new skill set, on their own, is very appealing to teenage girls," LaVoi says.
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