Increasing Physical Activity In Your Schools And Community

09/01/2014  |  Debby Mitchell Ed.D.

(This is the last of a three-part series about activating the brain and body through increased physical activity in our school systems.)

There is a lack of physical activity with an overemphasis on standardized testing in U.S. schools today. 

The reduction — and in some cases, elimination — of physical education in our schools has not only contributed to obesity and related diseases, but has adversely affected our children’s brain health. By increasing physical activity in our schools, we can combat obesity, regain student concentration, and possibly even increase academic success.

Many educators and community leaders have recognized that they can improve learning and therefore test scores, by including physical activity into children’s daily lives. Math or literacy coaches, classroom teachers with multi-sensory lessons, physical education, health education and other educators providing staff development for teachers, after school programs, and hospitals are following the research and making a difference.

Increasing Physical Activity
in Your Schools and Community

Educators need to include and increase physical activity for children during each day to prevent health-related diseases as well as enhance learning. Even small changes in our classrooms, schools, and communities can make a big difference to the health and well being of our children. The following article will review some ideas that education and community leaders can implement. One resource is the following report:

The Wellness Impact: Enhancing Academic Success Through Healthy School Environments report was recently released to highlight the “Learning Connection” – the science-based concept that improved nutrition, including breakfast, coupled with physical activity can help lead to better academic performance (2013). The report, produced by National Dairy Council, in partnership with GENYOUth Foundation, American College of Sports Medicine and American School Health Association, serves as a launch pad to ignite the conversation about how all sectors of society can work together to create an atmosphere where children have the knowledge, options, and opportunities to help them reach their full potential.

Key points summarized in The Wellness Impact show that:

  • After just 20 minutes of physical activity, brain activity improves, yet only 25 percent of high school students are active for the recommended 60 minutes each day
  • Students who eat breakfast have better attention and memory, but only 38 percent of all teens say they eat breakfast every day of the week
  • Schools are the smart place to start. Most American students spend more than 2,000 hours at school each year, which means schools can create an environment that encourages students to eat right and get moving.

Administrative Support

The integration of physical activity, increased wellness and learning potential is most effective when it comes from the leadership in a school, district or community. Remember the old adage, “Do What I Say, Not What I Do!” We all know that simply does not work. We do what we see and model the behavior of those we respect! If administrators, teachers, and parents are role models and participate in physical activity and make it a part of the day, children will imitate and benefit.

List of Ideas for Administrators

  • Assume a leadership role to set an example and vision for healthy schools and encourage other adults to also be role models.
  • Educate and communicate to teachers and parents the link between physical activity and academic achievement.
  • Encourage, support, and expect teacher’s efforts to provide brain breaks; integrate physical activity and academic learning with multi-sensory lessons and take children on the playground for recess.
  • Include a school wide movement activity session each day as part of the morning announcements — try the free video’s on GeoMotionTV.
  • Establish a wellness committee to support the educational efforts at the school site.
  • Involve students in program planning, implementation and evaluation of school programs.
  • Ensure that physical education programs are high quality with certified and knowledgeable teachers.
  • Support before and after school activity clubs and programs.
  • Take walking meetings when you are having discussions with a teacher or a student.
  • Have healthy celebrations instead of high sugar and high fat parties.
  • Schedule health fairs, walking/running clubs, PTA meetings that include children and parents in fun, physical activities.
  • Develop partnerships with YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, and other fitness/sport related organizations. They will often come to the school and provide activities for the children.
  • Promote fundraisers that are healthy — not sugary/fat food.

In the Classroom

Children are going to move with or without your permission. So why not provide meaningful movement throughout the school day for those much needed “brain breaks” so they will be more focused, alert and ready to learn?

List of Ideas for Classroom Teachers

  • Provide a one to two minute activity every 15 to 20 minutes to keep brain energized and enhance learning.
  • *Use multi-sensory learning — the more senses that are used the more “brain” connections are made to enhance learning (see Glasser chart).
  • Provide a few desks in the classroom that are taller for students that may need to stand periodically during the day. They will have a location to go and continue working without interrupting other students.
  • Remove all or some chairs and replace with stability balls — at least for children who cannot sit still and may need to move.
  • **Get children/students up for one to two minutes activity before a big test. They will be more alert, focused and successful.
  • For children who have ADHD or some other issues with focus and concentration, have those students participate in a fast pace activity, then a slow pace activity to relax and calm them.
  • Provide physical activity and integrated learning at PTA meetings or parent nights.
  • Send home research about the brain and the importance of children being physically active.
  • Send home assignments that utilize movement based learning.
  • Write grants to provide more physical activity lessons and equipment into your classroom. (National Dairy Council and Fuel Up to Play 60, etc.)
  • Sponsor before or after-school movement activities and participate in field days.
  • Include bulletin boards that show the importance of proper nutrition and physical activity.
  • Explore physically active curriculums that are available — GeoMotion TV, SPARK, The Walking Classroom, etc.
  • Provide healthy alternatives for prizes or rewards.

You will remember:

  • 10 percent of what you read.
  • 20 percent of what you hear.
  • 30 percent of what you see.
  • Learning improves dramatically when multiple senses are engaged — individuals typically retain about:
  • 50 percent of what they see and hear.
  • 70 percent of what they discuss.
  • 80 percent of what they experience.
  • 95 percent of what they teach someone else.

The brain is alert after physical activity according to the images of Dr. Charles Hillman of the University at Urbana-Champaign. His research focuses on the relationship between physical activity and children’s attention, memory and academic performance.

Funding and Grants

Look for funding sources. Two nationally recognized programs that have joined together to provide funding for increased physical activity and nutrition education are the National Dairy Council and Fuel Up to Play 60. Locate your local Dairy Council to get more information.

Spark PE provides a great grant finder tool. This site allows you to search by location and program type.



  • ACHIEVE (Action Communities for Health, Innovation, and EnVironmentalchangE)
  • Action for Healthy Kids (AFHK) – (e.g. GameOn!,ReCharge!)
  • Alliance for a Healthier Generation/Healthy Schools Program
  • American Heart Association (AHA) programs (e.g., Hoops for Heart, Jump Rope for Heart)
  • BOKS (Build Our Kids Success)
  • CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health)
  • ChildObesity180 Active Schools Acceleration Project (ASAP)
  • Farm to School
  • FitnessGram/ActivityGram
  • Fuel Up to Play 60
  • GeoMotion TV
  • HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC)
  • Let’s Move! Active Schools
  • National Dairy Council
  • OrganWise Guys Presidential Youth Fitness Program
  • Rock the Bike (Blender Bike)
  • USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP)
  • Stride Track
  • The Walking Classroom 100 Mile Club


Research clearly shows that children benefit with the inclusion of daily physical activity, which can have benefits for learning as well as student overall wellness in the prevention of disease. Research also shows that school scores are not negatively impacted when physical activity programs are implemented and may in fact improve test scores. Through the series of three articles, schools can see that by including multi-sensory learning and academic integration that brain activity increases and learning is enhanced. Armed with this knowledge and for the benefit of children, it makes sense to find ways to increase physical activity in every school.

Debby Mitchell, Ed.D. is a retired associate professor from University of Central Florida and President of GeoMotion Group, Inc. For more information, visit
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