Why become a vital school? Discover the urgency here!
The renewed Flemish health recommendations for sedentary behavior and physical activity advocate a healthy mix of sitting, standing and moving every day (Flemish Institute for Healthy Living, 2017). However, research shows that a large proportion of young people sit too long and do not exercise enough, including at school.
Several studies also show the benefits of sitting still for less time and moving more. Do you already see the need? What is your motivation to start working on this in your classroom?
1. Alarming statistics
The figures suggest that few children and young people are getting enough exercise and that there is a lot of sitting and a long time. How much they sit or move depends from study to study. However, the conclusion is the same every time.
Extensive tests on children and adolescents in Flanders with an accelerometer, a device that measures movement, revealed these striking figures:
6- to 12-year-olds sit on average about 7 hours a day. That's as much as half the time they're awake.
Among 12- to 18-year-olds, that figure is even higher. They spend about 8 hours a day sitting.
The explanation for that long sitting still? In part, school life. If Flemish children in elementary school spend 39 percent of their time in their chairs, it becomes 51 percent in high school.
The vast majority of our preschoolers exercise light , moderate or high intensity 3 hours daily. Most of it is light-intensity exercise, though.
Children and adolescents (ages 6 through 17):
Study with movement meters:
6-9 years: 6.5% move 60 min. moderate to high intensity every day (VCP)
10-17 years: 2.4% move 60 min. moderately to very intensively every day (VCP)
2. The Flemish health recommendations and the movement triangle
Thus, regular physical activity is part of a healthy lifestyle. For young people between the ages of 12 and 18, it is therefore recommended that they exercise at least 60 minutes a day at moderate to high intensity. This does not necessarily mean intense sports, but rather efforts that make the heart beat a little faster, the breathing speed up and where you sweat lightly. The vast majority - no less than 87% - of Flemish young people do not reach this norm.
In addition to sufficient exercise, limiting prolonged inactivity is also important for our health. Long periods of inactivity or 'sedentary behavior' include all activities with low energy consumption that are performed in a sitting or lying position, such as watching TV, using a computer, reading, sitting at school, at work or in the car ... Sleep time is not included in sedentary behavior.
Sitting still for long periods of time is different from physical inactivity or not meeting the exercise standard. A person who exercises moderately intensively for 60 minutes every day, but spends the rest of the day mostly sitting, still has a sedentary lifestyle. This can result in complaints, e.g. feeling less good mentally, poorer school results, higher blood pressure, obesity, weaker muscles and joints, sleep problems, etc.
It is therefore recommended for children and adolescents to limit prolonged periods of sedentary behavior. Screen activities (watching TV, using a computer ...) in leisure time are best limited to a maximum of two hours per day. But: on average, Flemish adolescents sit down for 6 to 9.5 hours a day, not including sleep hours. Young people sit for 51% of school hours, and to this must be added screen time, homework, motorized transport, sitting during meals, leisure activities, household chores ... Sitting still for a long time is called the challenge of the 21st century.
3. The many benefits of exercise
Whoever moves, wins. Children and young people certainly do, because they are growing. For example, there is evidence that exercise leads to a healthy weight, less risk of depression and better school performance! And it increases attention span in students (with ADHD).
4. Exercise at school has no negative effect on school performance
The effect of physical activity in the school setting on school performance is not yet fully crystallized. From the various review studies to date, the effects of increased physical activity during the school day on cognitive and learning performance appear to be relatively small or sometimes even absent (Singh et al., 2019; Vetter, Orr, O'Dwyer, & O'Connor, 2020; Wassenaar et al., 2020). For example, in a review article, both Singh et al. (2019) and Wassenaar et al. (2020) conclude that there is insufficient evidence for a positive effect of additional physical activity through curriculum modifications on cognitive and learning outcomes in general. However, the review article by Singh and colleagues (2019) does show that additional exercise can specifically increase math achievement. A closer look at these studies reveals that they are characterized by relatively long duration and high intensity: the exercise program lasted at least 2 years and consisted of at least three sessions per week, involving between 30 and 90 minutes of exercise per day. For other subjects, such as language and spelling, no convincing evidence has been found so far. Importantly, several review studies confirm that more exercise during school hours does not impair cognitive and learning performance (Singh et al., 2019; Vetter, et al., 2020; Wassenaar et al., 2020).
Sport and exercise do have very clear positive effects on brain structure and executive brain functions, motor and movement skills, and fitness, all of which are important for learning.
6. Movement gives additional benefit to cognitively weaker students
Active learning can be used as care. Research shows that brain activity in the less cognitively strong students increases with exercise. In the strong cognitive learners, we see a lesser increase. This scientific evidence is also confirmed in our field research. Several teachers indicate that active forms of work cause less cognitively strong students to better understand learning content.
7. Importance of prevention and ergonomics: learned young = done old!
PREVENTION AS AN INVESTMENT
Research has repeatedly shown that every euro invested in disease prevention pays for itself twice (or depending on the study: quadruple). Moreover, investing in disease prevention and health promotion turned out to be one of the most important recommendations for our country following the WHO's health analysis, which was also endorsed by many Belgian experts and health institutions. Currently, only 2 percent of Belgium's 44 billion euro health budget goes to disease prevention, a percentage below the European average. Marc Noppen, CEO of the UZ Brussel had it noted by Humo just last week that Belgium does not have a health care system, but a sick care system. "I am now speaking against my own store, but it is much wiser to prevent patients from ending up here. 60 percent of all admissions can be avoided, because they are a result of smoking, obesity, too little exercise, too much alcohol, and so on. Half of that 44 billion is spent to cure 5 percent of the population. That group we need to address with smart prevention." (source: 'De Morgen' 2/12/2020)
With increased laptop use in secondary schools, attention to ergonomics will become even more important, and movement-friendly teaching can provide a solution to this.
8. An exercise policy within the health policy
As of September 1, 2018, the health policy is an essential part of the policy on student support and therefore mandatory. Exercise and sitting still for less time are among the themes.
9. Included as a learning outcome in curricula
Learning outcomes are minimum goals that are necessary and attainable for a given student population. By minimum objectives is meant a minimum level of knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes that are considered attainable and necessary for a given student population. Every school has the social mission to achieve population-level attainment targets among students.
10. Outdoor learning increases teacher well-being
"The teachers really enjoy doing it. They see the effect in the children and that gives them great satisfaction. They also enthuse each other. They use the school blogs to inspire each other, for example by posting a small report of an activity. It all happens quite informally. They also often see what someone else is doing, because sometimes they are out with several groups at the same time. After all, we don't make agreements around who should or can go outside when.
What teachers themselves indicate is that their dealings with the children have changed. They deal with them more confidentially.
They feel a greater connection. Teachers who have been teaching here for many years are also satisfied with the change. This is reassuring because they can compare with how things used to be. More and more schools are doing this, so within a few years we may already be able to exchange more in-depth ideas."