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!

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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