Premier Education

Five ways to overcome lack of physical activity in schools

60 minutes of exercise a day is the minimum for children, according to physical activity guidelines from the NHS.

It’s apparent that most children aren’t meeting those requirements.

Childhood physical inactivity has several detrimental effects on their health and wellbeing, but physical activity among school-age children is lower than 60 minutes a day for almost two-thirds of young people in the UK.

Meeting physical activity guidelines may seem impossible with an already packed curriculum, but there are more ways to introduce exercise into school than simply having daily physical education classes. In this article, we’ll cover some easy ideas for schools to overcome a lack of physical activity in their pupils.

Why is physical activity so important?

With regular inspections, a mounting to-do list and an ever-growing list of boxes to tick, physical activity may feel like just another worry for teachers that are already under a microscope.

It’s important, then, to remember why physical activity is so vital for children.

Physical health is closely connected to mental health, so sedentary behaviour negatively affects both. Besides the more apparent risks like childhood obesity, which itself increases the risk of issues like cardiovascular disease, children that aren’t physically active will likely have:

  • Worse mental health
  • Lower cognitive function
  • Increased risk of depression
  • Higher stress levels

As you’ll know, the habits and behaviours children develop in these crucial formative years will often last for life – school plays a huge role in teaching children physical literacy in addition to more academic pursuits. The relevance of physical education for school children only continues to grow as awareness increases.

Of course, it’s worth keeping in mind that physical activity is only one-half of the whole where a healthy lifestyle is concerned. Concurrent healthy eating is just as important, as a healthy diet combined with being physically active is the best way to protect children’s health.

Health benefits

Teachers can help young children learn healthy habits early in life. Obese children will typically become obese adults – primary education offers the chance to curb these unhealthy behaviours before they become ingrained.

While inactive children suffer from the issues we just discussed, the reverse is true for active children. Improved physical fitness has a positive effect on both mental and physical health, sharpening reasoning skills, improving concentration levels and releasing endorphins that promote happiness.

Mental health impacts school attendance, cognitive abilities and general quality of life. Good physical fitness and regular physical activity can help children enjoy life to the fullest, and schools can help with good physical activity promotion.

Impact on academic performance

A boost to cognitive skills like memory and focus, reduced stress levels and improved overall brain function from regular physical activity inevitably have a positive impact on academic performance.

A study in the United States found “substantial evidence that physical activity can help improve academic achievement, including grades and standardised test scores”.

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5 ways to encourage physical activity in schools

A lack of physical activities in schools combined with sedentary behaviour at home leads to unhealthy, frequently unhappy children.

While there is little schools can do to influence exercise levels at home – bar teaching children good habits – there is plenty of school-based physical activity that teachers can implement.

These are 5 simple, straightforward ways schools can encourage physical activity for students.

Make PE lessons more engaging

While some children love physical education classes, others head towards their PE lessons with dread. Physical education can and should be fun for all. By straying from the old formula of boys playing football and girls playing netball, you’re more likely to get the whole student body engaged.

As just mentioned, variety is a key factor in making physical education more engaging. Playing the same sports week-in and week-out gets boring even for active children. Mixing up lessons by playing games like dodgeball, basketball or even archery and gymnastics, will keep kids engaged.

Thinking outside the box just a little could help you reach children that typically struggle with exercise in a school environment. A survey from Girls Active found that only 50% of girls enjoyed competitive PE lessons, compared to 50% of boys. Bringing music and dance into PE lessons, even teaching easier ballroom dances like the Waltz, could widen the appeal of physical education to children that prefer non-competitive exercise.

We know, however, that finding the time to create unique lesson plans for PE is difficult for teachers. Without the right training and support, it can be hard for schools to provide PE lessons that are varied and effective.

Premier Education’s PE enrichment offering provides teachers with the training they need, supplied by our highly-trained and experienced coaches. Our curricular support takes all the planning time off your plate, providing detailed lesson plans fully aligned to the PE national curriculum.

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Bring physical activity into other subjects

Sport and physical education shouldn’t be limited to PE lessons. While it may not work for every single lesson, bringing physical activity into other subjects more frequently throughout the school year can still make a big difference.

If you’re scratching your head wondering which school subject would fit the bill, here are just a few ideas:

  • History – re-enactments of famous battles or time periods are a fun, educational way to get kids active.
  • Maths – children can throw the correct number of bean bags into a circle to answer sums and equations.
  • Science – get outside and examine the natural world. Science is a fantastic subject to get hands-on experience outdoors.
  • Geography – use chalk on the playground to draw maps and label countries, rivers, or whatever is relevant to lessons!

These are only a handful of ideas, but as you can imagine, there are countless more opportunities to get children physically active in lessons. Whether children are hula hooping while solving math problems, or spelling while using a skipping rope, there are plenty of ways to bring physical activity into other subjects.

You could even occasionally take the children on school trips for subjects like geography and science, though this is obviously not an everyday solution!

Introduce a walk-to-school scheme

Many schools have found great success with a Walk to School scheme. Giving children the chance to walk in supervised groups to school is a great way to help children who would otherwise have been dropped off in the car be physically active.

Parents often struggle to find the time to walk their children to school before work, but a Walk to School scheme makes it easier. Besides helping children lead an active lifestyle, it’s also much better for the environment!

Ban phones during the school day

Even in primary schools, many children spend far too much time on their phones. This only gets worse as they get older. While the kids in years one and two may not be interested, the young people approaching their teenage years are far more likely to have a phone in their pocket.

Modern technology and the internet – particularly social media – are designed to keep people’s attention for hours. Before you know it, the whole lunch break will pass and they’ve been glued to their phones for all of it! Not only is this damaging to the development of social skills, but it also prevents young people from being active at lunch and during their breaks.

Removing phones from the equation encourages children to be active and communicate with one another face-to-face. Many parents may be concerned that their child will be unable to contact them – reassure them that phones are returned at the end of the day, and if there’s a valid reason they need to access a phone, exceptions can be made. For the majority though, you can simply provide a safe space for children to put their mobile phones at the start of the school day, and return them at the end.

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Extracurricular solutions: before-school, lunchtime and after-school clubs

While lessons may not always offer a chance to be physically active, there’s no reason why the hours outside of the school timetable can’t! Working around the school schedule is ideal for both parents and teachers, who may otherwise struggle to get children the daily recommended level of physical activity.

In high school, sports clubs are more common at lunch and outside school hours, as school teams develop and competitions between local school districts give more reason to practise.

Primary schools may not have the same level of competition and intensity to rely on, but extracurricular clubs can still motivate kids to exercise. These clubs can easily help children reach 60 minutes of exercise without taking time away from other subjects.

Premier Education can provide extracurricular clubs for schools, with sports sessions before and after school that give kids the chance to try a variety of sports, stay active, and have fun. Our coaches design the sessions to keep all children engaged, build skills and encourage communication.

Keeping kids physically active in school

Schools that help children become more physically active will soon reap the rewards. As we have discussed, physical activity plays a huge role in the health of children and can improve everything from physical fitness to academic performance.

We adopt habits at a very young age – teaching children the importance of physical activity in school will help them get on the right track. We know, however, that meeting physical activity guidelines isn’t always easy to do within the hours of an already busy school timetable.

It’s clear that physical education lessons alone, while vitally important, can’t get children to the recommended daily levels of physical activity. Extracurricular support and clubs outside of school hours are a fantastic solution: working with Premier Education can help to lift some of the pressure off the shoulders of teachers and schools.