Benefits of physical activity on the mind and body

Move it, move it: how physical activity at school helps the mind (as well as the body)

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Encouraging physical activity in the playground, in classrooms and before and after school can help.

Brendon Hyndman, Charles Sturt University

Federal Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie recently unveiled plans to convince state education and sports ministers to ensure sport and physical education is compulsory in schools.

The physical benefits of getting kids moving have been well recognised to help prevent chronic disease and develop movement habits across their lifespan.

Read more:
The rise of the Fitbit kids: a good move or a step too far?

Yet one of McKenzie’s key points, to push for mandatory physical education, was based on improving school results.

This statement is an important and positive shift in the education sector. Until recently, bodies and minds were often considered separate entities when it came to education.

Physical education has been perceived as only dealing with the “movement of the body” or the “non-thinking thing”. So historically, it has been pushed to the periphery. For example, physical education is yet to be an endorsed focus for the national senior secondary curriculum.

Yet over the past two decades, growing research has strongly recognised the inter-connections between body and mind.

How can movement help a student’s brain?

Brain processing takes up about 20% of our total metabolism through cognitive activities like memory, attention and concentration.

This cognition needs a strong flow of fuel (glucose, oxygen) and hormones to activate and enhance the brain’s capacity to perform, learn and get rid of waste.

So any prolonged sitting and inactivity can lead to negative cognitive consequences. For instance, inactivity in childhood has been linked to reduced working memory, attention and learning.

A student’s brain does not keep itself healthy independently. It is the connection with a healthy, moving body that can help improve brain performance.

Physical activity is also important in developing students’ brain structures (cells/neurons) and functioning at an early age.

The human brain is not fully developed until the third decade of life, so getting kids moving can be a powerful academic strategy.

What does the research tell us?

More studies are linking physical activity and improved cognitive function. One of the most globally recognised found primary school students’ level of cognitive function increased from just 20 minutes of walking. Students did better in an academic test and had improved attention.

Brain scan of child before (left) and after (right) walking on a treadmill for 20 minutes. Increased brain activity was linked with better cognitive function. Courtesy: Dr Chuck Hillman, University of Illinois.
Author provided

Since this study, there have been many other US studies that have established links between physical activity and students’ academic performance, including from the north east (with more than 1800 students) and Texas (2.5 million students).

Several large scale reviews have also identified links between physical activity and students’ academic performance, for example, grades and test scores.

In Australia, a study of 757 primary school students across 29 primary schools found fitter children had higher NAPLAN scores. Students with specialist physical education teachers also had higher numeracy and literacy scores.

Read more:
From grassroots to gold: the role of school sport in Olympic success

There is also evidence of improved cognitive performance (attention, memory, concentration), self-esteem, mental health (reduced depression, anxiety, stress), enjoyment and lesson engagement from school students’ participation in physical activity.

What type of physical activity is best?

Researchers are still working out what types, conditions and length of physical activities can have the most effect.

For instance, going for a routine walk requires less decision-making and intensity than completing a Tough Mudder or Ninja Warrior course.

Read more:
Why we should put yoga in the Australian school curriculum

Top 5 tips to provide high quality physical activity at school

1. Curriculum

Opportunities to take part in authentic (resembling real-world) games and sports, embedded with reflective and guided thinking opportunities. This can help students develop solutions to movement problems and understand sporting traditions, roles, teamwork and rules.

2. Classroom

Provide active breaks (short break of a few minutes) with simple and/or integrated physical activities like moving to music during prolonged, inactive lessons to improve academic engagement.

3. Recess

Access to a larger variety of mobile equipment can engage students in more creative exploration of physical activities.

Mobile equipment can encourage more variety and choice for students to design complex, evolving physical activities beyond fixed locations.

4. Before and after school

Partnering with national sporting organisations through programs such as Australia’s Sporting Schools.

Students can then pursue sports and physical activity beyond those facilitated at school and by the program.

5. Active transport

The Conversation

Set up a walking school bus or bicycle train to plan a safely structured walk or ride to school with one or more adults, depending on air quality, distances to school and busyness of streets.

Brendon Hyndman, Senior Lecturer and Course Director of Postgraduate Studies in Education, Charles Sturt University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What’s different in the revised Australian Curriculum for Health and Physical Education

Revisions have been made to the previously available Australian Curriculum to make the curriculum easier to manage, particularly for primary schools, to simplify the curriculum’s presentation and to strengthen the focus on literacy.

To achieve this the volume of content in learning areas has been reduced by deleting, clarifying and simplifying content descriptions, where appropriate, and moving references to examples to the content elaborations. This has improved clarity of content descriptions and has resulted in an overall reduction in the number of content descriptions in the curriculum.

Changes to information on the version 8.0 Australian Curriculum website support the move to a more streamlined presentation of the curriculum. In this version of the website:

Substantial reductions to the volume of supporting information for each learning area, general capability and cross-curriculum priority have been made by removing duplication and paring back background detail.

A consolidated F–10 overview section reduces repetition and provides clearer and more concise information about the whole F–10 Australian Curriculum, including:

  • the relationship between learning areas, general capabilities and cross-curriculum priorities
  • common structural parts of each learning area and their purpose
  • the contribution of each learning area to a student’s learning in Foundation – Year 2, Years 3–6 and Years 7–10
  • implications for teaching, assessing and reporting.
  • consistent navigational headings have been applied to the presentation of each learning area.

To support teachers to identify the specific changes that may affect programs that have been developed with the previously available draft, ACARA has made available a Tracked changes document for Foundation – Year 10 Australian Curriculum (PDF 2.9 mb) on the Australian Curriculum website. To view the details for the changes to the Health and Physical Education Scope and Sequence: Foundation to Year 10, please see pages 182 – 190 of the Tracked changes document.

**Article sourced from Australian Curriculum Website at

Quality health and physical education: why we need it in Australia?

UNESCO today released their report “Quality Physical Education: Guidelines for policy makers”. This global report provides a robust, evidence based framework and guidelines for the development and delivery of quality physical education programs to all children and young people.

Given Australia is moving from development mode into implementation of the new national curriculum in HPE across the majority of states and territories it provides a timely reminder of what quality PE looks like and why it is an absolute necessity.

The graphic below provides a fabulous summary of the key information from the report.

Happy reading!

Physical inactivity – why we need to take action now.

For the first time in history, the kids we are teaching today are the first generation with a shorter life expectancy than their parents – 5 years shorter!

The report card

d-minus-school-letter-gradeEarlier this year the Active Healthy Kids Australia Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth was released. Australia was awarded a D- for physical activity participation with the research finding that 80% of 5-17 year olds are not meeting the Australian physical activity guidelines of at least 60 minutes of exercise each day.

The research team used an international ranking tool developed in Canada to measure against 12 grades which will be compared against 14 other countries.

Among the 12 grades assigned in the Report Card, key grades include:

D- for Overall Physical Activity Levels
B-  for Organised Sport and Physical Activity Participation
D for Active Transportation (such as riding or walking to school)
D- for Sedentary Behaviours (screen time)

The science

The science is clear. Physical activity does more than create good health. It contributes to leadership, productivity and innovation. It lowers depression and crime, increases education and income levels, and generates return to businesses. It unleashes human potential, and this is what drives economies forward.

Physical inactivity on the other hand, can bankrupt economies. In 2008, physical inactivity in the US, China, India and the UK alone cost their economies $US200 billion.

The cost of physical inactivity or sedentary behaviours in Australia is equally alarming, with an estimated cost to the Australian economy of $13.8 billion in 2008. It is estimated that the cost in lost productivity due to physical inactivity equates to 1.8 working days per worker per year and it is estimated that 16,178 Australians will die prematurely each year due to physical inactivity.

The reality check

But let’s cut through the statistics and get down to what this really means … for the young people in our lives who stand to “lose” five years. The designedtomove initiative did just that and asked kids the question – what would they do with five extra years? Here’s what they said.

The challenge

When the Physical Activity Report card was released the Heart Foundation’s National Lead on Active Living, Associate Professor Trevor Shilton said the evidence can’t be ignored.

“We’re raising a generation of couch potatoes and if we don’t start to reverse this trend this will drive up health problems in the future – obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease” he said.
“We know what works. We need high quality, mandatory physical activity in our schools. We need to encourage and support our kids to stay active in everyday life – to be social and play outside, to walk and cycle in their neighbourhoods, do some household chores and limit hours of screen time.
“It requires a coordinated response – governments, communities, schools, families and individuals can all play a role, we just need to start the conversation.”
Surely our kids deserve to have those five extra years … What will you do in your school and community to ensure they get to enjoy them?

What you can do?

Peaceful Playgrounds Australia has a range of teacher friendly, ready to use programs that support teachers to increase the physical activity levels of their students while developing fundamental movement skills, learning personal and social skills and reinforcing literacy and numeracy concepts. Why not order your program today and start tackling the challenge.

Why Health and Physical Education needs a shift in focus

Traditionally in the health and physical education space we have spent most of our time telling students what to do or what not to do. For example, we tell students “they should eat a healthy diet”, “they should be physically active” and we tell them “don’t smoke”, “don’t binge drink”. As Jill Stark in The Age coined it – we are giving the uninvited lecture. All that young people are hearing in this conversation is “blah, blah, blah”.

Anecdotally I think we’ve all known this for a while, particularly those of you who are the parent of a teenager. However, research is now emerging that supports the need for a shift in our approach to conversations about health and wellbeing.

Recent research released by the Australian Research Centre for Sex and Health in Society (ARCSHS) at La Trobe University provides evidence that the traditional delivery of sexuality education in schools is failing to meet the needs of students.

Relevance of sex education in schools

Relevance of sex education in schools

The National Secondary Students’ Sexual Health Survey involved more than 2,000 students in years 10, 11 and 12 at Government, Catholic and Independent schools in all states and territories. The results found that “50% of young people expressed significant dissatisfaction with sex education at school, citing irrelevance to their real experiences, lack of relationship advice and lack of discussion of same-sex issues as problems”. (Mitchell A, 2014)

The data also showed that 7% of students reported not receiving any sex education at all … now I’m not even going to go there as that is a whole other issue that deserves a whole post to itself!

But it’s not all a bad news story as the following video shows.




The research also reported some very promising data including:

  • 31% of the respondents reported that they had never participated in any sexual activity
  • around one half of non-sexually active students reported that they did not feel ready to have sex; that they were proud to say no and mean it, and that they thought it important to be in love the first time they had sex
  • relatively low proportions of students reported frequent cyberbullying in the last couple of months
  • most common cyberbullying behaviours ‘every few weeks or more’ were receiving prank mobile phone calls (10%) and being deliberately ignored or left out of things over the Internet (9%)
  • 40% of students reported never drinking alcohol
    the vast majority of students (81%) have never smoked cigarettes
  • only 4% report smoking regularly
  • 83% of students report never having smoked marijuana, with only 3% reporting regular use of marijuana.

So to begin our teaching from a starting point of deficit, e.g. the assumption that ALL students will be participating in harmful or risky behaviours is doing a disservice to those students who are not participating in harmful or risky behaviours.

This growing evidence supports the underpinning framework of the new Australian Curriculum. Rather than focusing only on potential health risks or a deficit-based model of health, the curriculum has a stronger focus on supporting students to develop the knowledge, understanding and skills (those personal assets and strengths) they require to make healthy, safe and active choices that will enhance their own and others’ health and wellbeing.

Rebecca Alber in her article titled Ditching the deficit model identifies 5 learning strategies that teachers can use to help students to identify their strengths and personal assets or as she calls them their “jewels”. They are:

  • Goal Setting.
  • What I Know Well
  • Learning Inventories
  • Artifact from My Life
  • Takeaways.

Check out Rebecca’s post for more information about each of these strategies and how you might use them in your classroom.

A strengths-based approach is not reserved only for health education. Cote & Mallett in 2013 explored the use of positive psychology in sport and coaching in an effort to recognise and develop a strengths or assets-based approach to sport, coaching and physical activity. Sandy Gordon, in a presentation at the WA Health Conference in 2011 used cricket to demonstrate how a strengths-based approach can be used when considering elite movement performance. In her presentation she describes how Australian cricketer Marcus North was asked to consider a series of questions about his batting using a strengths-based approach. Below are his responses as reported in Gordon’s presentation:

Question: My strengths are … I feel strong when I am … {doing this}

“I feel strong when I am coming into bat when the innings needs rescuing or a game is to be won.”

Question: What is your best shot? How do you get most of your runs?

“Straight drive”

Question: I deliver my best and feel in my element doing what?

“Rebuilding an innings when the team is in trouble. Guiding the team to victory using a calm and clever mind set. Involving myself in the contest.”

Question: My favourite role(s) that I find most stimulating is (are)

“Being the player that stands up during the tough times and most difficult periods of play”

Question: Things I can do to build on my strengths, put myself into situations where I am in my element are …

“To train mostly by simulating tough game situations under greater pressure”

As a teacher, you could use similar questions with your students to get them to think about their strengths in different movement activities and contexts and to focus on these strengths in order to improve movement performances. This is just scraping the surface of how the strengths-based approach can be translated into practice.

How will you incorporate a strengths-based approach in your lessons?


Want to join a live webinar to explore how a strengths-based approach can be translated into your teaching practice?


Further reading on a strengths-based approach in the Health and Physical Education curriculum

Louise McCuaig , Mikael Quennerstedt & Doune Macdonald (2013): A salutogenic, strengths-based approach as a theory to guide HPE curriculum change, Asia-Pacific Journal of Health, Sport and Physical Education, 4:2, 109-125


Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority [ACARA] (2014)

Draft Australian Health and Physical Education (HPE) curriculum (




Physical activity and the brain

Why Active Kids Make Better Learners

“Physical activity has dramatic effects on individuals’ physical and mental health,” according to Charles Basch in his report, Healthier Students Make Better Learners.

Put simply, educational outcomes are directly influenced by health.

Physical Activity Recommendations

This, coupled with the knowledge that the majority of school–age students do not meet the CDC guidelines for 60 minutes of physical activity daily, should concern us all. While we pour money into new, innovative, and different perhaps it would be wiser to shore up what we know works: reinstating physical education and physical activity opportunities in schools.

Not only should the physical health risks be a concern, but the findings out of the neurosciences and child development literature continue to make a compelling case for the link between a healthy body and a healthy mind. This literature documents the importance of physical education and physical fitness and their effect on academic outcomes.
Physical activity and the brain infograhic
Physical activity (which leads to fitness) may also improve student physical health and well being. Fitness seems to buffer the deterioration of cardiovascular health, bone health, diabetes, and neurological body systems. Physical fitness and aerobic fitness are also associated with mental fitness and emotional health as well.

Health Benefits of Fitness and Physical Activity

Physical activity affects metabolism and all major body systems. The saying, “A strong mind and a strong body” are now well supported in research. Physical activity affects brain chemistry and cognitive functioning contributing to emotional stability, physical health, and the ability to learn. It is now clear and well supported that physical activity favorably affects cognitive functioning.

Three recent literature reviews conclude that school-based physical activity programs may result in short-term cognitive benefits (Taras, 2005), improve cognitive functioning among children (Sibley & Etnier, 2003), and do not hinder academic achievement (Trudeau & Shepard, 2008). These findings support the case for favorable effects of physical activity or physical fitness on cognitive functioning of youth.

Relationship between Academics and Physical Activity

The CDC report suggested that increased student physical activity and physical fitness can best be achieved through a comprehensive approach (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1997) that includes physical education, wise use of recess [lunch] and after school times, co-curricular physical activity opportunities, and bicycling or walking to and from school. The nature and scope of school-based physical activity/education programs will vary with the resources available (e.g., human, physical, and social environmental) and with the level of commitment by school administrators.

School Physical Activity Opportunities

Both physical education and lunch have been found to increase physical activity in children. Quality physical education programs are encouraged to organise learning opportunities to ensure that 50% of the physical education experience is organised around physical activity.

Recess may be another appropriate time to promote physical activity. Research indicates that lunchtime can contribute significantly to children’s overall levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity.

Yet, another type of physical activity opportunities in schools are called “brain breaks.” They are short 5-10 minute breaks within the classroom where students have an opportunity to stretch and move, thus integrating physical activities and academic concepts.

The Learning Connection put out by the Action for Healthy Kids Foundation points out many of the academic benefits and what you need to know to ensure your kids are healthy and ready to learn.

Physical Activity and Mental Health

It’s well known that routine physical activity benefits both body and mind. And there are no age limits. Both children and adults can reap big benefits. A study published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, explores whether certain factors may help to explain the value of daily physical activity for adolescent mental health. Researchers from the Trimbos Institute in the Netherlands looked at two possible explanations for the link between exercise and good mental health. One was positive self image and the other was winning friends. They surveyed 7,000 Dutch students, ages 11 to 16.

Yale University child psychologist Alan Kazdin, the editor of Clinical Psychological Science, says the findings show just how bountiful the benefits of exercise can be. “I think it would be too strong to call it an elixir, but it has the broad effects of something like that,” he says.

Originally posted on the Peaceful Playgrounds website. Reproduced with kind permission from Dr Melinda Bossenmeyer.

Everything I’ve learnt in life I learnt in the playground

I watched a less popular girl, Allison, walk up to a group of four girls who were playing a game of handball. As she approached and asked, “Can I play?” she was quickly rebuffed. “The game is closed,” Janey, the ring leader, announced.

Given the school is a Peaceful Playgrounds school, I was surprised at the response because of the “You can’t say, ‘You can’t play’” mantra. Allison, whose disappointment was obvious, turned to play another game. Fortunately, the playground was filled with alternate game choices and two other handball courts. Allison selected one of those courts and soon was involved in another game. This time she didn’t ask, but rather waited in line by the letter D.

Permission: is it a good idea?

It was an interesting observation for a number of reasons. I began to dissect what happened and why. In the first situation, Allison asked for permission to play. “Can I play?” allowed Janey the opportunity to respond and in fact, reject her request.

In the second situation, she simply stood in line and waited her turn. No one challenged her right to play. She didn’t ask permission but rather followed the rules of the playground and when her turn came she merely stepped onto the court. No one challenged her right to do so.

Entwined with the actions of young children was a lesson. When you act in accordance with the school rules (wait in line and go in when appropriate), that behavior makes rejection less likely.

Exclusion is not always playground bullying

I’ve been working on an online bullying prevention course for schools. This reminded me of what I’ve been writing about the way girls bully. Girls typically get involved with indirect types of bullying, for example: nasty staring, spreading rumours, manipulating friendships and excluding peers. The four girls who turned Allison away all participated in Janey’s decree of “You can’t play.” However, it wasn’t bullying as described, because there was no mention of a power differential. The intent to hurt was questionable. Although it didn’t meet the criteria for bullying, the activity was still hurtful, as evidenced by Allison’s reaction.

Multiple playground markings

Why didn’t Allison remind them of the school rule, “You can’t say, ‘You can’t play’”? I’m not sure. If that was the only handball court, perhaps she would have. This illustrates the importance of painting multiple markings of the same court. When we gathered information about children’s play choices, we observed that children often picked a less preferred game rather than wait in line on a Peaceful Playground.

This scenario is likely played out numerous times on playgrounds all across Australia every day. Below are a few key points that address this situation, relating to some of the philosophies and procedures in the Peaceful Playgrounds Program. The statements below explain some of the rules and procedures and the philosophy behind them.

1. You can’t say, “You can’t play.”

Whether or not a child invokes this rule, it illustrates the notion that all kids get to play all games.

Lanier Elem Painted Courts2. Multiple playground markings

Peaceful Playgrounds advocates painting multiple games with the same marking. For the reason illustrated in the situation above, if children want to play a particular game, they have options.

3. Kids pick an alternative playground game rather than wait in line.

We have found that multiple game markings are important. For example, if all handball courts have lines necessitating waiting in line, we observed that rather than wait in line children select a less preferred game most of the time.

4. Letting children solve problems on the playground.

We have operated under the philosophy that the playground is an opportunity for students to practice what they may face in life. Sometimes, in some situations, people may choose not to engage with certain people. The rejection on the playground or the ability to manoeuvre when faced with rejection is a life skill that needs to be developed. Sometimes the hard reality of life is that we are excluded.

Article originally posted on Peaceful Playgrounds Australia. Reproduced with permission.

Future focused learning in Health and Physical Education

Our current generation of students are the most connected and informed learners we have ever taught. They have access to more information and knowledge at their fingertips than we could ever have imagined. So, how does the new Health and Physical Education curriculum cater for the new generation of students?

The research into future directions in education and health was powerful in informing the development and directions of the new curriculum. The futures research in education suggests that schools will more and more become settings that guide learning with an orientation to developing lifelong learners, rather than settings that simply impart knowledge to create learners who can perform well on a final exam. Teaching within schools will no longer just be the domain of teachers but learning will be shaped by partnerships and connections with knowledge experts in the community. This will see teachers shift from a role of knowledge “keepers” to playing the role of knowledge “brokers” – facilitating access for students to knowledge gained from other sources or experts.

To cater for these shifts in knowledge access the Health and Physical Education curriculum includes a critical inquiry approach that promotes researching, analysing, applying and appraising knowledge in the health and movement fields. This approach seeks to support students to understand that a range of factors shape a person’s ability to be healthy, safe and active and that often these factors are out of an individual’s control. As students explore concepts and issues within the curriculum the content encourages students to question knowledge and test assumptions that we may take for granted to ensure that they are founded on reliable and accurate information.

Research into the future of health care suggests services will move towards a preventive focus and predictive medicine and interventions will become more widespread across Australia. Sources predict that nearly a million people in the United States have already signed up for full genome-scans with the hope of understanding their health better and avoiding the risk factors most relevant to their genes. This projected move to a rising engagement with predictive technologies will signal a dramatic shift. Health and Physical Education has historically focused on teaching students strategies to avoid a generic suite of risky lifestyle behaviours. The new curriculum focuses on developing understanding and skills to be able to make healthy, safe and informed choices about their health based on the information available to them. Health experts have identified the development of health literacy as a key skill for individuals in being able to manage their own health and wellbeing. The curriculum focuses on the development of the following skills within the three dimensions of health literacy:

  • functional – the ability to research and apply health information to respond to a health-related question
  • critical – the ability to selectively access and critically assess health information from a range of reliable sources in order to take action to promote their own or others health and wellbeing
  • interactive – the ability to actively and independently engage with a health issue and to apply new information to changing circumstances.

Taking this research into account the Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Health and Physical Education, proposed that a future-focused Australian Health and Physical Education curriculum should:
•    be contemporary, inquiry-based, developmentally appropriate, learner-centred
•    be relevant to the student and the local and global communities with which they identify
•    be informed by a preventive health agenda
•    provide opportunities for developing face-to-face communication and collaboration skills
•    draw on information and communication technologies to enhance learning
•    prepare students to be lifelong learners.

What does this mean for you as a teacher?

The release of the Health and Physical Education national curriculum provides an ideal opportunity for schools to put their current programs under the microscope. It’s important to critically reflect on the programs that you currently deliver in your school and evaluate how effectively they cater for your students as lifelong learners. Some questions that may help direct your reflections include:

  • How can your Health and Physical Education program best equip your students to deal with the day to day challenges they will face now and in the future?
  • How well does your Health and Physical Education program prepare students for life beyond the school walls, both now and after their school years have finished?

In a rapidly changing world, Health and Physical Education will play an important role in preparing young people for the new challenges they may encounter in the future. These challenges include the expectations placed on them as global citizens, the rapidly changing world of work, issues related to food security and bio-security, the role that social media and social connections online will play in their relationships and the broadening level of inequalities experienced between rich and poor.

Don’t stress … there is help out there

We have put together a structured process with accompanying resources for faculty and school teams to revise and renew their school HPE programs in light of the implementation of the new Australian Curriculum for Health and Physical Education.

If your school team is ready to review and renew your programs why not get in touch to find out more about our faculty mentoring packages.


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