4 Easy Ways for Health and PE Professionals to Support Classroom Physical Activity

The 2018 Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth reported that only 24% of US youth ages 6 to 17 meet the national recommendation of 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity.

Imagine more than half a million school buses filled with students — that’s the number of children who are not meeting the national recommendation.

Classroom physical activity is a great way to help students add more minutes of physical activity to their day. Health and physical education professionals can lead the way by implementing evidence-based strategies for classroom physical activity and using one or more of the four ideas listed below to get involved.

What is Classroom Physical Activity? 

Classroom physical activity is any physical activity done in the classroom. It may look different in every classroom — from when it happens to how often it happens to where it happens — and that’s ok!

The beauty of classroom physical activity is that it can happen at any time, can occur once or several times throughout the day, and should be offered at every level — elementary, middle, and high school.

Teachers can approach classroom physical activity in one of two ways:

  1. Integrated into academic instruction as a way to reinforce academic content and standards.
  2. Outside of academic instruction as a way to boost student energy and attentiveness and reduce the amount of time kids are sitting and not moving.

No matter what you call it — movement integration, classroom physical activity breaks, active learning, active classrooms, energizers, or brain boosters — classroom physical activity can increase the amount of time students are moving, reduce the amount of time they are sitting still, and improve academic achievement.

Why is Classroom Physical Activity Important?

There are a number of benefits to classroom physical activity. For students, it can help:

  • Improve concentration and their ability to stay on task,
  • Reduce disruptive behavior,
  • Improve their motivation and engagement,
  • Improve their academic performance, and
  • Increase their daily physical activity minutes.

Teachers benefit from classroom physical activity too! It helps them with behavior management in the classroom by helping to refocus and reengage students and increases their daily physical activity minutes alongside their students if they join in.

A classroom that has integrated physical activity is more collaborative and connected, creating a safe space for students to interact with each other in a fun way.

Despite these benefits, only 45% of schools have students participating in regular physical activity breaks outside of physical education classes. This number dips down to 27% for high schools.

Infographic showing the percentage of students taking classroom physical activity breaks outside of physical education classes
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Very few school districts require regular classroom physical activity breaks during the school day (e.g., 11% of elementary schools, 8% of middle schools, and only 2% of high schools). What can be done to boost these numbers?

10 Strategies for Classroom Physical Activity

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in partnership with Springboard to Active Schools, developed 10 evidence-based strategies that focus on ways to increase classroom physical activity in schools. You can take a closer look at the strategies in the image below.

Strategies for Classroom Physical Activity in Schools infographic

The important thing to remember is that the 10 strategies do not need to be implemented in order or all at once. Teachers, administrators and physical activity champions can decide which strategies are the best fit for them.

Some strategies include small changes in practice that can easily be made by classroom teachers. In contrast, others require long-term changes supported by administrative and budgetary commitments.

  • Strategies 1-3 may appeal more to administrators or wellness teams who are working to build buy-in and provide training.
  • Classroom teachers may be drawn to strategies 4-8 as they try to create an environment in their classroom that supports physical activity.
  • Physical activity champions may be interested in strategies 9-10 as they work to share stories and successes about why physical activity is important and how it is working in their school.

Classroom physical activity is all about finding the strategies, resources and ideas that work best for a particular school, classroom, and/or individual in their specific context.

4 Ways for HPE Professionals to Get Involved

  1. Make the case. Communicate the connection between physical activity and academic achievement to administrators, staff and faculty. Use your own experiences and your education and expertise to make the connection come alive!
  2. Educate. Share information about the importance of offering classroom physical activity in addition to PE and recess and not withholding classroom physical activity from students as a punishment. Educate school leaders, teachers and staff through professional development by sharing developmentally appropriate and safe activities for students of all abilities, demonstrating easy-to-implement physical activity ideas, setting up classroom space for physical activity, and identifying resources, technology, and materials for classroom physical activity.
  3. Incorporate classroom physical activity into CSPAP planning. If you are involved in your district or school’s efforts to plan and implement a Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program (CSPAP), be an advocate for including classroom physical activity best practices and strategies in the CSPAP plan.
  4. Share results, successes and lessons learned. Help track metrics or train teachers to track physical activity metrics in their classroom and share any successes or lessons learned with decision makers.

To learn more about classroom physical activity and the resources available to support classroom physical activity in your district, school or classroom, check out Springboard to Active School’s Classroom Physical Activity Online Platform or CDC’s Classroom Physical Activity page.

Note: This information is based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Strategies for Classroom Physical Activity in Schools. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2018.

Additional Resources


Kate Holmes
Kate Holmes

Kate Holmes, MPH, is the program manager for Springboard to Active Schools at the National Network of Public Health Institutes. She has been working on increasing physical activity and physical education in schools at the state and national level since 2014. Learn more about Springboard to Active Schools at www.schoolspringboard.org or on Twitter @Springboard2AS. Kate can be reached at kholmes@nnphi.org