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Physical Activity at School

Only 7% of Canadian children and youth are sufficiently active [1]. This situation is cause for concern in that physical inactivity has been amply documented as a risk factor for overweight, obesity, and numerous chronic diseases [2]. Physical inactivity is also the cause of 1 in 10 deaths in the world [3].

Physical activity has many beneficial effects on physical health, psychological well-being, mental health, social skills, cognitive abilities, and academic achievement, especially during childhood prior to puberty [4]. In this regard, studies have shown that physical activity improves academic performance by fostering, in particular, attention skills, concentration, memory, and better classroom behaviour [5, 6, 7, 8, 9]. It also elicits a sense of belonging at school and tends to promote greater academic perseverance [10, 11].

Owing to its educational mission, school is an ideal environment for acquiring the knowledge, skills, and habits that will allow leading a healthy and active life [12]. Given that children and adolescents spend most of their time at school, it is also a place that can offer the vast majority of them numerous opportunities to be physically active [13].

The World Health Organization encourages countries to formulate policy that deals with health at school adequately, which is to say that proposes physical activity for students before, during, and after class time [14].

For young people to get a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity per day and for this to be a positive experience for them, many promising and effective school-based interventions have been proposed [15, 16, 17].

The Weight Coalition estimates, therefore, that it is essential to give physical activity at school top priority as a possible way of solving the growing obesity epidemic. The population and experts in physical and sports activities concur, also, on the necessity of rendering young people more active at school, thus reflecting a genuine consensus to take action in this regard.

Would you like to discuss this topic with us?

Contact Corinne Voyer, Director:


[1] Active Healthy Kids Canada (2011). Don't Let Be the Most Physical Acitivity Our Kids Get After School. Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. Consulted on January 28, 2013.

[2] Janssen, I. (2012). Health care costs of physical inactivity in Canadian adults. Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, 37, 1-4.

[3] Lee, I-M. & al. (2012). Effect of physical inactivity on major non-communicable diseases worldwide: an analysis of burden of disease and life expectancy. The Lancet, 380 (9838), 219-229.

[4], [5] & [10] Comité scientifique de Kino-Québec (2011). L’activité physique, le sport et les jeunes – Savoir et agir. Québec : Secrétariat au loisir et au sport, ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport. Gouvernement du Québec.

[6] Sigfusdottir, I. D., Kristjansson, A. L. & Allegrante, J. P. (2007). Health Behaviour and Academic Achievement in Icelandic School Children, Health Education Research, 22 (1), 70-80.

[7] Hillman, C. H., Erickson, K. I. & Kramer, A. F. (2008). Be smart, exercise your heart: exercise effects on brain and cognition. Nature reviews Neuroscience, 9, 58-65.

[8] Trudeau, F. & Shephard, R. J. (2008). Physical education, school physical activity, school sports and academic performance. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 5 (10). Consulted on January 8, 2013.

[9] Rasberry, C. N. & coll. (2011). The association between school-based physical activity, including physical education, and academic performance: a systematic review of the literature. Preventive Medicine, 52 (1), S10-S20.

[11] Sigfusdottir, I. D., Kristjansson, A. L. & Allegrante, J. P. (2007). Health Behaviour and Academic Achievement in Icelandic School Children, Health Education Research, 22 (1), 70-80.

[12], [13] & [19] World Health Organization (n.d.). Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health: The Role of Schools. Consulted on December 12, 2012.

[14] World Health Organization (2005). Preventing Chronic Diseases: A Vital Investment: WHO Global Report. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO.

[15] Global Advocacy for Physical Activity, the Advocacy Council of the International Society for Physical Activity and Health (2011). Non Communicable Disease Prevention: Investments that Work for Physical Activity. Consulted on January 14, 2013.

[16] Lagarde, F. & LeBlanc, C. (2010). Politique favorisant l’activité physique dans les écoles. Revue canadienne de santé publique, 101 (2), s9-s13.

[17] World Health Organization (2008). School Policy Framework: Implementation of the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and HealthGeneva, Switzerland: WHO. Consulted on November 23, 2012.  

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