On The IOM’s New Recommendations On Physical Activity at School

July 16, 2013

Thoughts from HSC President and CEO Rochelle Davis.

by Rochelle Davis

I was pleased to see the New York Times’ recent editorial about the importance of physical education. This editorial was responding to a new report from The Institute of Medicine (IOM), which details the needs and benefits of daily physical activity and physical education for students and offers some excellent recommendations on how to effectively implement physical activity or education programs at school.

The IOM report recommends students experience at least 60 minutes per day of “vigorous or moderate physical activity, equivalent to a brisk walk.” This can be accomplished through a structured physical education class (PE), broken up through recess and physical activity breaks throughout the day, or with robust after-school sports programs. The New York Times editorial staff agrees with this assessment and puts it succinctly and excellently: “Physical activity should be a core educational concern, not a dispensable option.”

There are many important benefits to physical activity. In addition to health benefits, students who participate in physical activity during the school day are less likely to experience behavioral problems at school and are more focused and engaged in their schoolwork. As this report documents, children who are more active during the school day have improved memory and problem-solving skills, perform better at reading and mathematics and score higher on standardized tests.

HSC has been working hard to integrate physical activity into the school day in Chicago. Our efforts include encouraging the district to adopt policies that support wellness, creating incentives and recognitions for schools that increase physical activity for students and providing training and support to principals, teachers and parents.

After a six-year campaign, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) now requires daily recess. In the last three years, almost 200 Chicago schools have met the requirements of the HealthierUS School Challenge, which includes physical activity requirements. And our Fit to Learn program provides principals and teachers with assistance in incorporating physical activity and physical education. We were very pleased to see that CPS’ recently-released five-year strategic plan includes a commitment to provide all students with daily PE. Over the next few years, HSC will be working with CPS to accomplish this.

The IOM makes a number of important recommendations for promoting physical activity in  schools. These include the designation of physical education as a core subject, treating it with the same importance and urgency of reading and mathematics, including PE in district-wide policy decisions and providing training and professional development for teachers focusing on PE and physical activity. All educators, parents and policymakers should take the IOM’s recommendations seriously.

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For teachers who wish to learn more about ways to incorporate more physical activity into classroom learning, we encourage you to try Fit to Learn, a free professional development program for Chicago teachers. We will be hosting summer sessions in July and August.