Kirsten Patrick on 5-a-day fitness

Kirsten PatrickAll over the news in the UK recently was a story about The British Association of Sports and Exercise Medicine (BASEM) endorsing a “quick training programme designed to address criticism over the way PE is taught in English schools.”

BASEM apparently called for all schools to use the short exercise routine called “five-in-five”, devised by a sports coach, Kelvin Giles. Mr Giles was on BBC lunchtime news trying to demonstrate some of the more difficult moves by getting the presenter to try them (he looked like he was terrified he would fall on his face on national TV).

Yesterday my 6 year old son demonstrated to me one of the daily workouts that he and his classmates do between lessons at school. They use a programme called 5-a-day fitness. The class follows five minutes of dance or fitness moves demonstrated by an “instructor” projected up on to the white board via laptop. My son’s favourite is “workout,” a pretty complex sequence of dance moves, crossover steps, twirls, star jumps and wiggles. Almost as good he says is “disco.” There’s also “robot,” “hula,” and “march,” and a trio of chill-out options, “stretch,” “balance,” and “breathe”….the latter much less up the street of a six year old!

His teacher tells me that they’ve been using this programme of daily exercise for the better part of a year after the school’s PE co-ordinator brought it back from a course. (The PE co-ordinator tells me that the PE teachers from the cluster of Greenwich schools of which my son’s school is one agreed to buy the 5-a-day programme rather than spending money on getting supply PE teachers. Good decision!)

 All classes in the school do a five minute routine every school day, sometimes twice a day. My son’s year 2 teacher says that she finds that it helps to get the kids focussed first thing in the morning and after lunch. Recently the teachers opted to stop getting the kids to line up and file in to class at 9am and to allow them to go straight in to the classroom when they arrive at school instead. To me a short period of dedicated exercise seems a much better way to spend the first five minutes of the day than a short period of shuffling single file to the classroom and hanging up coats. Definitely some inspired thinking going on there.

When my son first mentioned “5-a-day” I rolled my eyes at the now-hackneyed phrase and pictured something like CBeebies’ “Boogie Beebies” (lame- and not much of a workout). But when he showed me the “workout” routine yesterday I was dead impressed by his moves (because he’s always been a pretty uncoordinated kid and what he was doing seemed quite difficult) and very impressed by his enthusiasm. The kids LOVE doing “5-a-day.” When I asked my son’s teacher to show me the programme one day after school kids who were passing by on their way out (free to go home, you understand) came back in to the classroom so that they could have another go at it.

What impresses me most, though, about 5-a-day fitness is that the kids just do it in their school clothes on the carpet in the classroom. No need for changing; no need for special props, just gravity and their bodies. Hey, they’re being reminded daily that they HAVE bodies appended to their brains. This can only be a good thing. I think I’ll donate some money to the school so that they can buy the 5-a-day fitness “volume 2,” and the one that comes in French, that they are hoping to get.

Kirsten Patrick is clinical reviews editor on the BMJ and biased in that she genuinely loves to exercise and thinks everyone else should love exercising too.