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Are Students Sitting too Long? The Benefits of Intermittent activity

It’s not only adults whose health is jeopardized by a sedentary lifestyle. Research suggests that children, too, need to move throughout the day for optimal health. And anecdotally, many teachers and parents agree that getting kids’ “wiggles” out can help with attention and behavior too.

On average, children sit for about 8.5 hours every day and activity levels drop significantly after about age 8 and continue to fall through adolescence. Although PE helps gets students up and moving, research suggests that movement should occur intermittently throughout the day, and not only condensed into more intense workouts. (In a study conducted on adults, health risks associated with sitting too much were elevated after a prolonged period of inactivity, even after a morning visit to the gym).

Ali McManus, an associate professor of pediatric exercise physiology at the University of British Columbia in Kelowna, studied the health effects of uninterrupted sitting in children. She and her colleagues found that children who sat for three uninterrupted hours showed “a profound reduction in vascular function,” with the normal and healthy widening of blood vessels falling by as much as 33 percent. (For perspective, in adults, a sustained 1 percent decline in vascular function has been shown to increase cardiovascular disease risk by 13 percent).

This study suggests that breaking up the time students spend in their chairs is not only good for their attention, but for their short term—and maybe even long-term—health too.

You can read more about the study here.

How do you incorporate movement into instruction? Here are a few ideas:

  • When reveiwing concepts, have one side of the room represent "True" and the other "False". Read a statement and have students walk to the side of the room that reflects the answer.

  • Have students rotate through several stations and do a 1 minute activity at each.

  • Place notecards around the room with vocabulary words and their definitions and have students move throughout the room to record definitions from the cards.

  • Take brain breaks: 30 second non-academic bursts of activity like marching in place, dancing, doing arm circles, or stretching.

What are some of your favorite ways to get students out of their seats and moving during the school day? Let us know in the comments below.


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