Over the past four decades, childhood obesity has more than tripled. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) report that about 41 percent of children and adolescents are overweight or have obesity. 1 During this same timeframe, children have become more sedentary due to many causes, screen time being one of them. There is a way to offset this alarming trend: power-off the screens and get moving!
Massachusetts Physical Activity Data
Massachusetts has partnered with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for more than 20 years to collect data on nutrition and health education policies and practices. The data is collected through the School Health Profiles (Profiles) surveys. Profiles is a system of surveys sent to middle and high school principals and lead health education teachers. The surveys are administered biennially on even-numbered years. The 2017 and 2018 data below highlights physical education and activity amongst students in Massachusetts.
Benefits of Physical Activity in Children
We all know physical activity is important and healthy for everyone, but how exactly does it affect children? Physical activity in children helps to:
- build healthy bones and muscles
- decrease the risk of obesity and chronic disease
- reduce anxiety and depression
- promote positive mental health
- increase ability to focus
- improve academic performance
- boost cognitive skills
To quote Dr. John Ratey, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, exercise is “Miracle-Grow for the brain.” Dr. Ratey believes that “exercise is the single most powerful tool that we have to optimize the function of our brains. Before-school exercise has been shown to help increase the learning and memory function, also increasing new brain cell growth-essentially ramping up our children’s brains to learn.”
How Much Physical Activity do Children Need?
The CDC recommends 60 minutes of physical activity per day and, sadly, many children are falling short of this goal. it is important that there are plenty of opportunities for children to get physical activity both at home and at school, that are safe, fun and frequent. By making physical activity fun, children will enjoy being active and will build healthy habits that will last a lifetime.
Incorporating Movement Breaks in the Classroom
Give your students a brain and body boost! Children spend the majority of their day in school, and for some, school is the only place where they are physically active. Movement breaks are short, fun and require very little space. Students can stretch and do simple body weight exercises right at their desks, and the extra movement helps to increase blood flow to the brain – a win-win! For information about how to implement movement breaks into the classroom, check out the resources below:
Example of movement breaks:
Classroom movement break resources
SHAPE America Teacher Toolbox Calendars: Monthly physical activity and wellness calendars
Movement in the Classroom: Action for Healthy Kids Fitness Break Tip Sheet
Go Noodle: Free movement and mindfulness videos for both in school and at home activity
Action for Healthy Kids: Classroom physical activity breaks including social emotional health highlights.
BOKS: Free physical activity curriculum, training and support that can be implemented both in school and at home.
Recess & Physical Activity
Similar to classroom movement breaks, recess allows students to move their bodies and expend energy. Recess is also a great opportunity for children to work towards 60 minutes of activity every day. All students should have the opportunity to participate in recess, and it should never be withheld as a form of punishment.
Action for Healthy Kids recommends that elementary schools should incorporate a minimum of 20 minutes per day of recess for all grades and 30 minutes for primary grades. Middle and high school students also benefit from a “recess” – even just 15 minutes!1
To learn more about recess and how to implement structured recess time in your school, check out the links below:
Recess for Learning: Action for Healthy Kids
Physical Education in Schools
Physical education (PE) and physical activity (PA) are important components of the Whole Child, Whole School, Whole Community model.
Physical education is an academic subject that provides a planned, sequential, K‐12 standards‐based program of curricula and instruction designed to develop motor skills, knowledge and behaviors for healthy, active living, physical fitness, sportsmanship, self‐efficacy and emotional intelligence.1
Physical education has evolved over time, and is viewed as an integral part of the school day. Providing students with a fun and safe space for PE can lead to healthy habits in both adolescence and adulthood.
To best help schools implement PE, SHAPE America developed national standards for K-12 PE:
Standard 1: The physically literate individual demonstrates competency in a variety of motor skills and movement patterns.
Standard 2: The physically literate individual applies knowledge of concepts, principles, strategies and tactics related to movement and performance.
Standard 3: The physically literate individual demonstrates the knowledge and skills to achieve and maintain a health-enhancing level of physical activity and fitness.
Standard 4: The physically literate individual exhibits responsible personal and social behavior that respects self and others.
Standard 5: The physically literate individual recognizes the value of physical activity for health, enjoyment, challenge, self-expression and/or social interaction.
The comprehensive school physical activity program (CSPAP) outlines the following essential components of PE:2
- Policy and environment:
- Create a safe and fun environment for all students to learn and succeed
- Exercise is not utilized or withheld as a punishment
- Sequential and comprehensive for grades K-12
- Review periodically
- Base on national and/or state standards and appropriate to each grade level
- Appropriate Instruction:
- Students should participate in moderate to vigorous activity for at least 50 percent of class time
- Adaptations must be made by the PE teacher for students with disabilities
- Student Assessment:
- Collect and gather evidence on student achievement
- Grade based on learning objectives from curriculum
Check out SHAPE America’s Massachusetts Fact Sheet for more detail about PE, health and student success in schools.
- “Active Outdoor Recess.” Action for Healthy Kids, www.actionforhealthykids.org/activity/active-outdoor-recess/.
- The Essential Components of Physical Education , Shape America – Society of Health and Physical Educators , 2015, www.shapeamerica.org/uploads/pdfs/TheEssentialComponentsOfPhysicalEducation.pdf.