FRIDAY, Jan. 11, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Physical-education requirements at four-year colleges and universities in the United States are at an all-time low, according to a new study.
In 1920, there were physical-education and exercise requirements for 97 percent of U.S. college students. In 2012, that number decreased to a historic low of 39 percent.
The study authors analyzed data going back to 1920 from more than 350 four-year colleges and universities, and their findings appeared in the December issue of the journal Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport.
"We see more and more evidence about the benefit of physical activity -- not just to our bodies, but to our minds -- yet educational institutions are not embracing their own research," lead author Brad Cardinal, a professor of exercise and sport science at Oregon State University in Corvallis, said in a university news release.
"It is alarming to see four-year institutions following the path that K-12 schools have already gone down, eliminating exercise as part of the curriculum even as obesity rates climb," he added.
Many universities have fitness centers, but those facilities can be intimidating for many students, he said. Research has shown that campus exercise facilities are often used by students with the highest fitness levels, Cardinal noted.
"The very people who want to work out -- and likely would find a way to do so no matter what -- are often the most frequent visitors to gyms and fitness centers," Cardinal said. "A public university should provide a way for people who may be intimidated by state-of-the-art facilities -- or may be unfamiliar with even the basic concept of working out -- a way to learn about basic health and physical activity."
Requiring students to take physical-education courses helps them understand that being active and healthy is as important as academic achievement and could help lead them to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
"There is a remarkable disconnect in that we fund research as a nation showing that physical activity is absolutely critical to academic and life success, but we aren't applying that knowledge to our own students," Cardinal said.
The Nemours Foundation has more about college students and exercise.