Students need daily opportunities to be physically active for their optimal health. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recommend that children and adolescents aged 6-17 years should have 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day. Regular physical activity in childhood and adolescence improves strength and endurance, helps build healthy bones and muscles, helps control weight, reduces anxiety and stress, increases self-esteem, and may improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
In addition, physical activity is important for effective learning. Numerous research studies have found increased academic performance and school-based physical activity, including physical education. Many academic indicators are also enhanced, such as mood, attendance, and on-task behavior.
What can schools do? Schools can play a significant role in providing opportunities for students to be physically active through implementing active schools strategies. The Active Schools Minnesota Initiative intentionally expands opportunities for physical activity during the school day through quality physical education, active classrooms and active recess, as well as opportunities to be physically active before and after school.
Active School Strategies in the Active Schools Minnesota Initiative
Physical education is foundational in an active schools initiative. Physical education is a curriculum taught by a qualified physical education teacher. Instruction is designed to promote physical fitness, to develop motor skills, and to instill knowledge and understanding of rules, concepts, and strategies for a lifetime approach to being physical active. Physical education standards help to maintain quality and provide a sequential approach to learning.
Active classrooms is the intentional act of embedding movement throughout the school day, within any classroom setting. Acknowledging that learning is enhanced when the brain is turned on, physical activity can be a component of any discipline or subject matter and is an important part of differentiated instruction. Oftentimes, these short bursts of physical activity are called “energizers” allowing individuals the ability to regroup and enhance their learning experience.
Active recess provides opportunities for all elementary students to be engaged in free play physical activity during the structured school day. Active recess takes into account many best practices including: a wide array of self-selecting activities to choose from, the opportunity for all students to participate, and time and space for students to come back to the classroom ‘ready to learn.’ In addition, many secondary schools have found benefits in drop-in opportunities for physical activity that allow students the chance to increase movement throughout the school day.
Before and after school physical activity programs provide opportunities for activity for students outside of the regular school day. These activities can help provide students with opportunities to engage in physical activity and to further develop the knowledge, attitudes, motor skills, behavioral skills and confidence needed to adopt and maintain physically active lifestyles.
Safe Routes to School provide students and families a more active alternative in transportation to and from schools. A comprehensive safe routes to school approach includes the five Es: Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Enforcement and Evaluation.