Focus On Fitness


Make physical activity a big part of your school year



John Rennison/torstar NEWS SERVICE file photo


Fewer than half of Canadian children get the daily physical activity necessary for their healthy growth and development. They earned a “D” for the second year in a row from the Active Healthy Kids Canada 2006 Report Card on Physical Activity.

Too much screen time, whether in front of TVs or computers, too much time in vehicles instead of walking or taking the bus, and not enough time playing are all taking their toll on children’s activity levels.

One solution, Active Healthy Kids Canada says, lies in our schools. Get more high-quality phys-ed classes into our schools, it says, and increase school-based physical activity.

This year Ontario, for the first time, has mandated that all students in kindergarten through Grade 8 must take part in at least 20 minutes of physical activity each day. The activity may include dancing, jumping, sports, play, walking — anything that gets their bodies moving and their hearts pumping.

Students at two Ottawa schools got a head start last year. They participated in a study, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), that examined different ways to build activity —- 30 minutes’ worth — into the daily curriculum.

Students in the early grades learning to add two plus two might do four squats. Older students might learn their science by walking around the school to identify tree species.

Dr. Claire Leblanc, a pediatric rheumatologist and sport medicine physician at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, designed the study with Dr. Mark Tremblay of the University of Saskatchewan. She says that children in school spend six hours each day at their desks — and may not choose to be active at recess, preferring instead to play electronic games or chat with friends. Incorporating activity into the classroom promotes academic achievement by making the curriculum fun and interactive, while encouraging a higher level of physical activity.

In British Columbia, Action Schools! BC is a program designed to help elementary schools create individual school action plans to promote healthy living.

As of April 30, 872 schools across the province were enrolled in the program. CIHR-funded researcher Heather McKay of the University of British Columbia studied students in Grades 4 to 7 in 10 pilot schools in Vancouver and Richmond, seven of which worked with Action Schools! BC, three of which did not. She found that students in the participating schools had many more minutes of physical activity opportunity each day than students in non-participating schools. She also found that, while the program is geared toward Grades 4 to 7, the entire school benefited from an emphasis on healthy living and physical activity.