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Physical Activity in schools

Research shows that daily physical activity improves concentration and academic achievement. Schools are an ideal place to promote health by creating daily opportunities to increase physical activity and reduce sedentary behaviour. School-based physical activity initiatives can reach every student regardless of age, ability, gender, culture and socio-economic background. Both structured and unstructured activity is important and daily activity can be obtained through classes, sports, intramurals, dance, but as well as through play time and walking or biking for transportation.

To assist schools in creating supportive environments for physical activity, public health staff can attend/facilitate meetings, provide presentations, best practice information and resources, assist with funding applications and help make connections between schools and local community partners.

The following action plan ideas are provided to help schools interested in addressing the topic of physical activity. Include a selection of activities from each of the five sections below, or brainstorm ideas of your own:


  • Refer to the Steps to Success: The 5 E’s (Education, Encouragement, Engineering, Enforcement, and Evaluation) to increase the success and sustainability of student walking and wheeling initiatives.
  • Showcase your school wide physical activity initiatives (e.g. through local media, at school board/principal meetings).
  • Organize physical activity challenges with neighbouring schools.
  • Encourage educators to support students to meet daily physical activity (DPA) requirements.
  • Plan activities for students during breaks and lunch, such as the Healthy P.A.L.S. program.

  • Provide students with leadership opportunities during daily physical activity (DPA) in the classroom or school-wide e.g. students develop DPA ideas and lead peers through planned activities.
  • Reduce the time students spend sitting during the day, e.g. educators support students to lead class pop-up physical activities.
  • Create opportunities for student input on what supports they need to be more active e.g. bike racks, recess equipment, or standing desks.
  • Involve students in organizing events and activities such as running programs, intramural sports, and student-led DPA.
  • Involve students in organizing school wide activities, such as family fitness nights, winter carnival days and school wide physical activity days.
  • Involve students in a school/community garden or greenhouse.
  • Encourage students to be engaged in school groups and committees that include physical activity opportunities, e.g., active school travel/school travel planning, naturalization/EcoSchools, Healthy Schools, etc.
  • Facilitate opportunities for students to lead walking and wheeling initiatives.
  • Participate in School Travel Planning to assess local barriers and enablers to active school travel, and to develop and implement action plans to increase active and safe routes to school. Public health staff are available to work with school communities to facilitate and support each step in the School Travel Planning process.
  • Organize activities for International Walk to School Day/Month (October); then build on that motivation to keep them going all year.
  • Create and maintain a school/community garden or greenhouse.
  • Develop naturalized outdoor play areas to encourage physical activity and strengthen students’ connection to nature. Public health staff are available to work with school communities to plan and implement play and learning environments that include a variety of natural elements.
  • Create physical activity opportunities by having: a fitness room for staff/students, no-cut sports programs, outdoor classrooms, open gym time for use on breaks, walk/wheel initiatives, physical activity fundraisers.
  • Offer opportunities for Community Use of Schools to help ensure affordable and accessible spaces for people to gather to learn, participate in community-based organizations and stay active.
  • Engage local stakeholders (including School Boards, municipal transportation planners and engineers, public health, community groups, police, parents, students and school staff) in School Travel Planning.
  • Schools/parent council can partner with public health staff to explore and apply for grants that support physical activity.
  • Connect with local fitness club owners, yoga/martial arts instructors, YMCA, municipal recreation departments, local youth centres or others to inquire about partnership opportunities.
  • Borrow the health unit’s tarmac stencils (PDF) and tarmac stencil games booklet (PDF) to paint your playground and help encourage students to be active at recess. Contact Leigh Heathwood at leigh.heathwood@smdhu.org or 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520, ext. 7281.
  • Highlight family-school-community partnerships in the media.
  • Community partners maybe available to assist in the development, planning, and implementation of Healthy Schools initiatives, and are a valuable asset to any Healthy Schools Committee. For more information about community partners click on our Community Partnerships page.
  • 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth – an integration of physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep and the first evidence-based guidelines to address the whole day. School Administrators can download the guidelines and view related resources.
  • Naturalized Outdoor Play Areas at Schools to Support Physical Activity and Health—A Rapid Evidence Review - School ground greening or naturalization, is a growing international movement. It involves transforming expanses of turf and asphalt into places that include natural and built elements. Naturalized school grounds accommodate the play interests and abilities of all students, and represent a promising means of getting more children moving in ways that promote physical, social and cognitive health. This evidence review provides key messages, recommendations and resources for schools to make the most of outdoor free time and support outdoor classroom initiatives. Public health nurses can provide information and support for implementation of play and learning environments that include a variety of natural and built elements.

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