sedentary time for students during teacher lecture

Why We Need to Reduce Sedentary Time in Schools

The majority of K-12 students fail to meet national recommendations for physical activity – and there is a growing focus on increasing movement during the school day. Successful programs and curricular models that increase physical activity include classroom-based interventions, recess interventions, and after-school programs.

In addition to increasing physical activity, however, it’s also important to reduce sedentary time in schools.

What Is Sedentary Time?

Sedentary time is essentially any time that we spend awake that we are not engaging in light, moderate, or vigorous physical activity. Sedentary time is associated with many diseases including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

While we have many programs that have helped us increase the time students spend being physically active in schools, we know very little about how much time they are spending sedentary in schools and what those behaviors are.

Research on Sedentary Time in Schools

In a recent systematic review and meta-analysis of sedentary time and behavior during school — published in the September/October issue of the American Journal of Health Education — my co-authors and I found that students in the United States spend up to 63% of their day sedentary.  

Even more disturbing is that when given the opportunity to be active, students in the U.S. spend 44% of their time in recess sedentary and 38% of their time in physical education sedentary.

Furthermore, at the time the study was conducted there was no empirical information describing the bouts of time students spend sedentary during the school day. Bouts of sedentary time — which means the length of time sedentary — should be of special interest because it is recommended that we get up and move at least every hour to reduce health risks.

Steps to Reducing Sedentary Time

To improve student health, we must reduce sedentary time in schools. The first step is to have a deeper empirical understanding of bouts of sedentary time, sedentary behaviors in schools, and time students spend sedentary in schools.

Descriptive research will allow interventionists to target specific sedentary behaviors and bouts of sedentary time. Additional recommendations include:

  • Take environmental considerations into account to reduce sedentary time (e.g., standing desks);
  • Provide professional development opportunities to help classroom teachers and physical education teachers incorporate maximal physical opportunities in their classrooms.

Students moving in classroom

Let Students Move!   

Students who move more have better health statuses than their more sedentary peers. Whether you are a researcher or practitioner, you can make a commitment to helping students move more.

One way to start is by learning more about the Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program (CSPAP) national framework — developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in collaboration with SHAPE America — which includes strategies that help students achieve 60 minutes a day of physical activity.

From descriptive research projects, to interventions, to classroom movement breaks, we all play a part in reducing sedentary time in schools and helping our students move more!

Additional Resources


Cate Egan
Cate Egan

Cate Egan is an assistant professor and physical education teacher education program coordinator at the University of Idaho. Her research focuses on comprehensive school physical activity programs and the promotion of healthy active lifestyles. She can be reached at eganca@uidaho.edu.