In a day and age in which stats tell us how unhealthy our population is, how inactive we are, and how poorly we eat, most professionals suggest more physical activity and a healthier diet. A few years ago, weight loss product marketers (e.g. Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig) spent $101.9 million on national TV ads to entice customers to purchase their products. The average American adult spends $155 per month on their health and fitness, including gym memberships, health supplements, clothing and accessories, meal plans, and trainers. The focus is do, do, do! Go, go, go! Seems like it is a similar take when talking about physical activity for children in schools. Let’s give them MORE opportunity to be active. Faster, bigger, stronger! While this is a great way to help with student health, among other things, the pressure and stress it places on teachers is often times unnecessary.
What Can Teachers Do?
As a classroom teacher, you probably feel some responsibility to provide moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity in your classroom setting. This may include push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, or running in place. The good news is, there are alternative ways to approach this subject without demanding more of you. Let’s reverse our thinking. Instead of stressing about providing more, more, more for your students, how about if we think about it from a more straightforward approach? What if our goal is to have them sit still less? It is a pretty simple concept. Researchers have found the idea that “intense exercise at the gym will counteract the rest of the day spent sedentary in an office” to be false. Rather, a more effective tactic is to reduce their time spent sitting or being sedentary. This may be more successful at improving health (Beddhu, Wei, Marcus, Chonchol, & Greene, 2015).
Translating to the Classroom
If we translate this to our students in our classrooms, hopefully it relieves us to know that we are not responsible for getting our students’ heart rates in their target heart rate zone or having them active in a certain intensity level for a certain period of time. Rather, our challenge would be to prevent students from sitting for prolonged amounts of time. This can be as easy as having students move from desk to desk or table to table to complete work or activities. Perhaps some lessons could involve intentional movement breaks. Other ways to prevent students from being sedentary are to seta timer so once each hour, students take a stretch break, stand up and do 10squats, or switch to a different activity (e.g., reading at desk to writing down one fact they learned on a post-it note on the wall).
There are also classroom equipment and gadgets to serve as sedentary alternatives. For instance, while it may seem obvious, research has shown that standing desks decrease the time students spend sitting (Erwin, Beighle,Routon, & Montemayer, 2017; Silva, Minderico, Pinto, Collings, Cyrino,& Sardinha, 2018). What a simple change. Stationary bikes are another way to decrease sedentary activity during class time (Fedewa, Abel, & Erwin, 2017). Stability Balls may be a promising alternative for classroom workstations. Whether you feel comfortable going outside the box with different furniture or equipment in your classroom, if your goal is for children to sit still less, you can be making a bigger impact on their health than you think.
Equipment to Limit Sitting Time
- SmartStudy Standing Desks: Standing in class has been shown to increase blood flow, leading to better concentration and increased time on-task.
- DeskCycle 2 Under Desk Cycle: Quickly, easily, and unobtrusively integrate activity into the classroom.
- BALLance Stability Ball Chairs: Special “feet” turn this stability ball into a chair, so it stays in place.
Beddhu, S., Wei, G., Marcus, R. L., Chonchol, M., & Greene, T. (2015). Light-intensity physical activities and mortality in the United States general population and CKD subpopulation. Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, doi: 10.2215/CJN.08410814
Erwin, H., Beighle, A., Routen, A., & Montemayor, B. (2018). Perceptions of using sit-to-stand desks in a middle school classroom. Health Promotion Practice, 19(1), 68-74.
Fedewa, A. L., Abel, M., & Erwin, H. E. (2017). The effects of using stationary bicycle desks in classrooms on adolescents’ physical activity. Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools, & Early Intervention, 10(1), 78-89.
Silva, D. R., Minderico, C. S., Pinto, F., Collings, P. J., Cyrino, E. S., & Sardinha, L.B. (2018). Impact of a classroom standing desk intervention on daily objectively measured sedentary behavior and physical activity in youth. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 21(9), 919-924.
Heather is a Professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion at the University of Kentucky. She is a former physical education teacher, and co-author of Dynamic Physical Education for Secondary School Children, 8ed. Heather was also the recipient of the NASPE Curriculum and Instruction Young Scholar Award and a AAHPERD Research Consortium Fellow.