Back to School: How Important is Physical Activity in School?

As summer draws to a close, parents are preparing to send their children back to school, and kids are gearing up to refocus their attention on learning and study. However, active play should not stop just because school is starting. In fact, physical activity is an essential ingredient for healthy, productive students of all ages, and incorporating it into the school day makes kids more attentive, better behaved, and superior academic performers.


Benefits for All Ages

  • Pre-schoolers need daily recreation to foster healthy growth and development. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, physical activity builds strong bones and muscles, and decreases the likelihood of developing obesity and risk factors for diseases like type 2 diabetes.
  • For kids in elementary school, movement helps release energy. Burning off the excess steam allows them to stay focused in the classroom. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that elementary school girls who participated in physical education had better math and reading scores than girls who spent less time in P.E.
  • In older children, daily movement boosts brain function. A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that physical activity improves concentration, memory and classroom behavior.

How Much Activity? 

According to the Center for Disease Control’s Division of Community Health, kids who perform well in school are more likely to be physically active on a regular basis. The CDC recommends at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day, mostly consisting of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity such as bike riding, walking, running, dancing, and playing active games like tag, soccer and basketball.

Muscle-strengthening activities such as gymnastics and climbing for younger kids and push-ups, pull-ups and weight-lifting for older kids are also recommended to take place at least three days of the week as part of the recommended 60 minutes of exercise per day.  Bone-strengthening exercises like hopping, skipping, jumping and running should be performed at least three days each week as well.

Get Kids Moving 

A great way to encourage kids to be more physically active is to get them to participate in sports and other activities in which they’re already involved or show an interest and, once they’re signed up, support that involvement.

Another option is to suggest new games or activities, especially those that have fun and engaging social components that keep kids interested.

Finally, setting a good example goes a long way in promoting healthy, active lifestyles in youth. Physically active parents, teachers and other role models not only show kids how to be healthy, but also provide children with additional opportunities to be physically active.


Kids spend a lot of time in the classroom, and promoting physical activity at school is an ideal way to keep them moving year round. Support policies that provide time for organized activity and play during the school day, and become involved in school-based sports and events.  Programs worth supporting include quality physical education initiatives, recess, physical activity breaks, and intramural sports.  Amazing Athletes is another tool parents can use to make sure their kids get the CDC-recommended 60 minutes of physical activity a day and reap the healthful benefits of active living.

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