Remember that President’s Fitness Challenge you had to do back in grade school? So do we, and we were recently wondering, “What was that all about??”. Here’s a little more information to explain how it came about, and where it’s headed now.

If the President’s Fitness Challenge brings back bad memories of bullies and angry gym class teachers, maybe it’s time to measure your fitness level in a new way. Try our free Fitness Report Card! It will check some basics and tell you where you’re in good shape and where you could use some improvement.

The Early Years

What is now the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition began with a warning from Dr. Hans Kraus in 1953.

Kraus, a specialist in physical medicine whose favorite form of exercise was climbing mountains, published a paper with Bonnie Prudden warning that affluence in America made life so easy that both children and adults were becoming couch potatoes; this was long before video games entered the scene.

Prudden, an athlete, rock climber and gymnast, had started testing children in different countries to determine their level of physical fitness.

Children in places like Italy, Austria and Switzerland – where people walked and performed manual labor – were very fit, with a test failure rate of only 8%. But in the United States, the failure rate was a staggering 58%! Without video games… really???

Fitness for Children

Kraus and Prudden took their studies to Washington. On July 16, 1956, President Eisenhower issued an Executive Order creating the President’s Council on Youth Fitness, now the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.

The council promoted physical fitness for all children – including boys and girls who were not athletically inclined – and called for the involvement of community organizations, schools and researchers. Since that time, the PCPFSN has expanded its focus to include adults, seniors and people with disabilities.

Slogans such as “Get off it!” with it meaning your butt, helped to popularize the concept.

The President’s Challenge Program

John F. Kennedy challenged the White House staff to a 50 mile hike during his presidency (Bobby Kennedy did the hike in leather dress shoes), and the public’s response eventually led to the Presidential Physical Fitness Award for children who did well academically as well as on fitness tests.

Under Ronald Reagan, a new award, the National Physical Fitness Award, was developed to recognize children who scored at the 50th percentile, or up to the 85th percentile on the Presidential Physical Fitness Test.

In 1986, the President’s Challenge Youth Physical Fitness Awards Program was developed as part of the youth testing process.

In 2003, an award was developed for adults as well as children – the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award, which is available to seniors, adults, teens and children.

Fitness tests measure aerobic fitness, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility and – for adults – whether you have too much fat around the waist.

Previous Presidential Fitness Tests for Children

The President’s Challenge Fitness Test for children formerly included five activities. To score in the 85th percentile, activities had to be completed within a designated time frame. The goals were different for girls and boys, and increased with age.

These percentiles were developed based on the last set of nation-wide school fitness tests, which were completed in 1985. Here’s what the test used to look like:

  • Sit-ups (or crunches), which measure abdominal muscle tone and core strength; they must be completed within one minute. A 17-year old boy was expected to perform 55 and a girl, 44.
  • An endurance run / walk designed to test aerobic fitness. For older students, the goals were 6 minutes, 6 seconds for boys and 8 minutes, 17 seconds for girls. Some of these scores are no joke!
  • Pull-ups (or right angle push-ups) measure upper-body strength. At 17, a boy had to do 9 pull-ups or 53 pushups; girls had to do 9 pull-ups or 55 push-ups.
  • The shuttle run measures speed and agility. The student runs 30 feet, picks up a block, runs back and lays it down, picks up a second block and runs back 30 feet to lay the block down. Boys and girls had to complete the test in 8.7 and 10 seconds in the oldest groups, respectively.
  • V-sit reaches show the flexibility of the muscles in the spine and back of the legs. Students sit on the floor and reach between their legs. Goals were to reach more than 7 inches for 17-year old boys, and more than 8 inches for 17-year old girls.

For the average citizen, it’s safe to say that they were significantly more fit overall in these younger years than in adulthood, but these are still some tough goals to reach!

Adult Fitness Tests

That’s right, graduation doesn’t mean you’re home free from getting your fitness graded!

The Adult Fitness tests calculate the variables such as the participant’s age, weight and gender to give a percentile rating. Unlike children’s tests, the goals are not published; percentiles are calculated on an ongoing basis that changes according to how much data is entered into the online system.

The Adult Fitness test includes:

  • 1-Mile Walk
  • 1.5-Mile run
  • Crunches
  • Pushups
  • Sit-and-Reach Test
  • Body Composition Test

How do you think you would measure up against the rest of the nation? If fitness is not something you’ve kept up with over time, give our free 10-minute home workout plan a shot, and see how you feel afterwards! Every little bit counts!

The New Presidential Youth Fitness Program

This new program (PYFP) launched in September of 2012. It is voluntary, and includes an assessment, as well as professional development and motivational recognition to empower students to adopt an active lifestyle. The primary update to the current test is a move from measuring athletic performance to assessing health-related fitness.

FitnessGram has been adopted as the fitness assessment. Research has shown that the assessment should be a part of a complete package that includes education, training, recognition, parent and student feedback, technical support, and development of a national database capable of tracking data over time.

You can get the complete details for FitnessGram on their website. The PYFP is free and available to all schools nationwide.

A Changing Focus

Today, the Council has a focus not just on activity, but on good eating habits. The Presidential Active Lifestyle Award, or PALA+, recognizes both physical fitness and healthy eating habits and is available to Americans of all ages.

PALA+ is the new and improved PALA (Presidential Active Lifestyle Award), a program of the President’s Challenge, designed to motivate participants to make physical activity and healthy eating a part of everyday life.

The physical activity requirements are:

  • Youth (6-17 years old): Active at least 60 minutes a day (or 11,000 steps for girls and 13,000 steps for boys)
  • Adults (18+): Active 30 minutes (or 8,500 steps) a day

The target time period for maintaining these goals is 5 days per week for six out of eight weeks.

Healthy Eating Counts Too

The new nutrition component requires participants to choose weekly healthy eating goals and build upon them throughout the same six-week period.

Specificially, participants must choose one healthy eating goal to focus on the first week and, during subsequent weeks, an additionally goal is chosen, and the participant must continue with the previous weeks’ goals.

These are the healthy eating goals available:

  • I made half of my plate fruits and vegetables.
  • At least half of the grains that I ate were whole grains.
  • I chose fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, or cheese.
  • I drank water instead of sugary drinks.
  • I chose lean sources of protein.
  • I compared sodium (salt) in foods like soup and frozen meals, and chose foods with lower sodium.
  • I ate seafood this week.
  • I ate smaller portions.

To complete the nutrition requirement, participants must incorporate and maintain six different healthy eating goals over the six-week time frame.

The President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition remains a source of inspiration for people who want to improve their health. So “get off it” and get yourself on a serious new workout plan today!