School Strategies that Support Physical Activity
Post submitted by Monica A.F. Lounsbery, PhD, professor and director of the Physical Activity Policy Research Program, Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition Sciences, at the University of Nevada–Las Vegas.
Schools, through recess, physical education, and other programs, provide opportunities for children to accrue their recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity. Of these settings, physical education is perhaps the most important because it is a required part of the education curriculum and provides the only opportunity some children have to engage in vigorous activity and learn movement skills that will last a lifetime. Participating in physical activity during recess is voluntary, but nonetheless many children are active during it, especially when it is held outdoors.
Recess is also another very important school context that can support physical activity. To gain some perspective on the potential of both physical education and recess to promote and provide physical activity during the school day, we examined 65 elementary schools from 9 states. Our results showed that elementary school students were scheduled to have an average of 146 minutes of recess and 63 minutes of physical education weekly. Although this is far less than national recommendations, these programs still provide important sources of physical activity. But one of the major barriers to optimizing their delivery is that they are rarely evaluated, and therefore improving them is likely not prioritized.
Walking and biking to and from school has also been identified as an important source of physical activity for school-age children. Promotional materials and strategies for active transport to school have been put forth by a number of agencies, including the National Center for Safe Routes to School and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Additionally, some classroom teachers recognize the importance of physical activity in getting students to focus better and have begun introducing regular physical activity breaks into their instructional routines. These breaks consist of short 5-to-10-minute physical activities that students can do standing next to their desks. Activity breaks have grown in popularity recently, and there are a number of online resources to help teachers implement them. The Alliance for a Healthier Generation provides a list of resources that are helpful for teachers who want to start providing physical activity breaks throughout the school day.
Physical aspects of the school building and yard can also be modified to support physical activity. For example, some schools are removing benches, which support sedentary behavior, and are replacing them with walking paths or colorful lines that promote physical activity. Other schools post promotional signs around the school to socially market physical activity, provide regular announcements to encourage students active, and provide support and training for playground supervisors to promote activity rather than suppress it.
What strategies does your school employ to keep students physically active?