A Healthy Dose of Education

09/25/2013 08:31 am ET | Updated Nov 25, 2013

In working to improve educational opportunities for our young people, we must recognize that different students learn best in different ways. Teachers need flexibility in their classrooms to find the best ways to reach individual students. However, some universal truths should be at the core of our efforts to prepare the next generation for future success. One of these fundamental principles is that healthy children learn better and have a greater chance to reach their potential.

That sounds simple enough, but the reality is that while childhood obesity increases, many of our youth have don't have enough opportunities to be physically active. Youth ages eight to 18 average 6.5 hours per day with electronic media while children today spend less time playing outdoors than any previous generation.

With these trends in mind, I look forward to welcoming leaders from the National Foundation for Governors' Fitness Councils (NFGFC) to Delaware today to cut the ribbon on new state-of-the-art fitness centers at three schools in our state. The schools received the centers from NFGFC, funded by NFGFC's sponsors, for demonstrating new and innovative ways to promote student physical activity and wellness.

It's exciting to see sparkling facilities in our schools and these events also offer an important opportunity to highlight the invaluable benefits of physical activity in our young people's development.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that regular physical activity helps reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and colon cancer, while strengthening psychological health by decreasing the likelihood of depression and anxiety.

Meanwhile, recent studies have shown the direct benefits of better fitness in the classroom. It improves a students' ability to learn and can significantly boost their academic achievement.

These facilities can't help but generate enthusiasm about ways to make our youth fitter and healthier, furthering the mission of NFGFC Chairman Jake Steinfeld, who has made it his life's work to fight childhood obesity.

We're taking the opportunity presented by Jake's visit to emphasize that our mission to engage students in physical and outdoor activities goes beyond gym class.

In Delaware, we take seriously a point stressed by Harold Kohl III, chair of an Institute of Medicine Committee that recently released findings recommending increased physical activity for students: "This is a whole-of-school approach. It's not just physical education. It's everything that occurs during school as well as around the school day."

Last year, as part of our effort to combat childhood obesity, we launched a Children in Nature initiative with the goal of having "No Child Left Inside" and offering more opportunities for young people in our state to enjoy Delaware's outdoors. By implementing experiential education and promoting environmental literacy, our schools can tap abundant opportunities to use the natural world in providing a well-rounded curriculum. We're encouraging them to create opportunities to reconnect children with nature, such as using outdoor classrooms and incorporating nature-based activities into their lessons.

School-related activities should be accompanied by after-school opportunities. Earlier this week, we named the recipients of the first round of our new $2.2 million in after-school program funding from this year's budget. We held the announcement at South Dover Elementary School, where third and fourth graders in participating in "Girls on the Run" take part in self-esteem building exercises while training for a 5K. This program epitomizes our goal to give youth a safe setting to enjoy the arts, nature and physical activity.

We must continue to do everything we can to provide our young people with the highest quality educational curriculum to prepare them for bright futures in college and careers. However, we're also mindful that the best lesson plans won't be as effective for students who aren't healthy.