Ghana: Education, physical activity and development

Wed, 23 Nov 2005 Source: Doe, James W.

We have been made aware, that steps are going to be taken to improve the health and minds of our children. "Ensuring that pupils and students in first and second cycle institutions respectively are taught at least two forty-minute physical education (P.E.) lessons per week to enhance their health status and academic performance." (Ghanaweb Nov. 2, 2005)

It would be a very good policy Hon Minister for Education & Sports and very innovative too, to fall back on the basics. I reckon it should not be a nine day wonder, just because of the celebration of the International Year of Sports and Physical Education (IYSPE) that took place in Accra on the Wednesday.

We all participated in Physical Education (PE) at school when we were kids. But it seems to have seized to be practised in certain schools for sometime now. We used to have P.E., uniforms as well.

Also the "good old sections;" these were colours that one belongs to in each class in elementary schools (now known as the Primary & Junior High Schools) whereas, at the secondary (senior secondary) school level students belonged to houses, irrespective of whether he/she was a "day or a boarding" student.

There is famous Latin quotation from Juvenal's satire which said, "mens sana in copore sano." It was learnt from secondary form three history books during the 'O & A' Level system and translates as "A sound mind in a sound body" or "A healthy mind in a healthy body."

So, I was not surprised when in last year's publication by a Finnish researcher in a medical journal, contended that physical activity in childhood may have advantages even in older age (Taimela S. 2004).

The fact is in Japan there is what they call "Radio Taiso"or "Rajio Taiso" (Radio Calisthenics), which we can simply call in English radio exercises. It was initiated in 1928. It is the morning exercise music of Japan played on TV and loudspeakers every morning at about 6:00 am and gets every person involved in about a 3.5 to 5.0 minutes of exercise.

This early morning exercise music continue to be played till today to the delight of would be health conscious Japanese and I can assure everyone that there are a many such Japanese, although its popularity is declining fast among the youth. Obviously, a troubling situation that could be blamed on prosperity.

In reality records have it that "radio taiso" could have been one of the "little secrets" borrowed from the Americans. The first ever radio calisthenics program was aired in 1925 from the New York headquarters of Metropolitan Life Insurance.

You will for sure not see Americans doing such exercises today, it ended sometime around the stock market crash and the ensuing Great Depression years. Possibly the cause of, and a prelude to bigger problems in the diet and obesity of America today.

Whereas, the exercise program just kept rising in popularity in Japan and by 1962, the number of persons taking part in radio exercises were in the tens of millions. Later, Minna no Taiso (Exercise for Everybody) was created in 1999 to commemorate the United Nations' International Year of the Elderly.

Hitherto, both "radio taiso" and "minna no taiso" have become the iconic exercise tunes intended to promote and maintain the health of not just insurance policyholders, but aged and the general public.

It is a well thought out type of "radio exercises" which could these days be seen performed daily on radio and TV networks of the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK).

I is believed that the exercises since the 1920s did, in no small way instil discipline in the Japanese and of course given them good health, long life, respect for each other, made them to be patient, not to mention thoughtful or mindful of others feelings but even "sharp-brained," also among these to be very hard working to say the least. No wonder Japanese are the longest living humans on earth. They were able fast track their development at "rocket speed" after embracing a "Marshall Plan" administered by General Douglas MacArthur immediately after the second World War.

Progress was so fast that between 1950 and 1960s it was clear the history was going to be in the making. Japan therefore became the second largest economy in a space of barely 50 years as they also benefitted from other factors with a reasonably healthy population.

With the oldest Japanese and in fact the longest-lived persons in the world from the Islands of Okinawa, reaching average ages of 86 and 78 years for women and men respectively.

A national average of 84.6 years for women and 77.6 years for men . Okinawa also has 39.5 centenarians (100-year-olds) per 100,000 people compared with 10 per 100,000 in America. This is higher than any where in the world.

The data available from the Japanese Health, Census and Statistics offices shows that by the summer of last year, 2004 the number of Japanese reaching their 100th birthday (Centenarians) and over is more than 20,000 people.

A very fast aging society though, the population graph (pyramid) of Japan is a direct opposite of Ghana's. It is narrow at the base, wider in the middle and projected to be almost the shape of a reversed pyramid in 2050. Hence, an increasing number of older people which will make it heavy at the top.

Of course they also have lean (low fat, water-rich and high-fibre) diets, but nutritious foods including fish, lean meat, fruits (like melon), traditional foods such as sweet potatoes, tofu and vegetables like "goya,"among others. Goya or Chinese bitter gourd is known as melon in the West, it could be likened to "bitter leaf taste" cucumber with coarse-peel.

In its most recent research by the Nippon Research Center, in a nationwide survey showed that nearly 60% of Japanese people eat "health foods" and spend an average about 4,700 yen (about 360,820 cedis) on them a month, a research showed Monday. The age group of the respondents was between 15 to 79 years old. (Kyodo News/November 15, 2005)

The "radio taiso" (free of charge) practised in Japan is very different from the hobbies like aerobics, taibo, the popular gym attendance or even yoga (also good), all of which require some form of investment in form of cash, videotape or DVD, sometimes special space with equipment and some form of membership fee.

These demands sometimes relegate the ordinary person to the fringes (background) since it does not come cheap. They are sometimes run as businesses and possibly elitist, has a notion of prestige, participation in them have become a show of status symbol in Ghana and defeats the very benefit of sports for all.

I had a chance to conduct unrelated studies to this topic though, in a few companies between 1998 and 2000 in Japan about management and clients satisfaction, in a subject area of consumer and utilities research.

What I noticed every morning in all the companies I visited in the north (Tohoku Region) of Japan was that, before work begins the "sarariman" gathered outside and in some cases, within the offices for short exercises in the mornings. In Japan office workers, civil servants and public sector (white-colour job) workers are all known as "sarariman" (salaried man).

The light morning exercises they said, keeps them attentive, kind and active throughout the day. I should think exercise has something to do with your blood circulation. Blood circulation is said to improve with exercises anyway.

In China for example they have the "Tai Chi" exercises (many aged people practise) which is very solemn, not rigorous and of course aged-friendly.

Regular physical activity is effective either in avoiding or treating a wide range of ailments, including, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, cancer, high cholesterol levels in blood, chronic fatigue syndrome, dementia, and eating disorders. But we should be reminded that our diet among others does affect our health too.

Former President Bill Clinton is joining Nick News to challenge kids to make healthy choices and combat childhood obesity in a programme called "The Fight to be Fit." His aim is to give something back to society, we may call it private social responsibility.

"After my bypass surgery last year, I wanted to develop a program for young people so they know about the dangers of eating poorly and living an unhealthy lifestyle and also so they know that there are options available to eat right and exercise" Clinton said. (NEW YORK, Nov. 3, 2005/PRNewswire)

Sports should be designed to be refreshing and should not to be perceived or seen to just cause excess fatigue, pain or even injury. It should be well thought out, with such a precision in design, with properly coordinated physiokinetics so that, school children do not think it is some sort of punishment.

In conclusion I wish say that, the health benefits of a nationwide (Ghana's) return to this policy of particpatory physical activity in all schools can not be overemphasised. New studies identify and have confirmed, that there are many advantages that could be gained regular physical activity.

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Columnist: Doe, James W.