4 reasons to get students active this winter!

The following post is one I wrote for the Ophea Blog published January 13th. View the original post here.


Photo via Ophea Canada

Winter is here! With the days shorter and the recess colder, even the best of us [or our students] can get a little blue.  Did you know that “more than one in five boys and one in three girls report feeling depressed or low at least once or more on a weekly basis?”[i] Luckily, moving more and sitting less can help to prevent the blues and help our students get back to their normal self. To help ward off those winter blues, this month’s #FactFriday brings you four reasons why it’s important to encourage your students to get physically active this winter and all year long:

  1. Physical activity has been found to improve mental health conditions, particularly anxiety, depression and general well-being.[ii]
  2. Physical activity was associated with a decreased likelihood of depression in a survey of 9,938 school-age children.[iii]
  3. The rise of mental health challenges faced by Canada’s children and youth is matched by a decrease in physical activity participation levels.[iv]
  4. Physical activity, sport and exercise is positively associated with mood, emotion and psychological wellbeing.[v]

Getting students physically active and to engage in regular daily physical activity not only decreases their risk of chronic illness but also supports their emotional well-being. The four reasons listed in this blog are mere examples of the positive impact regular physical activity has. It’s important to reflect on these benefits with students and help them to better understand the impact it has on their health.

Furthermore, by supporting student well-being through daily physical activity, the 2015 Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum explains that, “behaviours promoting mental health are not always correlated with the prevention of mental illness. However, learning about mental health and emotional well-being helps students understand and manage the risk and protective factors that are in their control so that they will be better able to build and maintain positive mental health.”[vi] As such, supporting student well-being and promoting regular self-care where physical activity takes lead can help students beyond the walls of the gym or classroom –It prepares them for life.

Looking for resources to help encourage reflection and start conversations? Ophea’s All About H&PE resource is a free online resource developed to support educators implement the Health and Physical Education curriculum (1-12), and provides the tools educators need to strengthen understanding and knowledge of the five Fundamental Principles.

Check out All About H&PE today!

[i] The Health Of Canada’S Young People: A Mental Health Focus. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada, 2017. Retrieved January 10 2017 from http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/hp-ps/dca-dea/publications/hbsc-mental-mentale/assets/pdf/hbsc-mental-mentale-eng.pdf

[ii] Schmitz, N., Kruse, J., and Kugler, J. (2004). The Association between Physical Exercises and Health-Related Quality of Life in Subjects with Mental Disorders: Results from a Cross-Sectional Survey. Preventive Medicine, vol. 39, pp. 1200–1207.

[iii] Goodwin, R.D. (2006). Association between Coping with Anger and Feelings of Depression among Youths. American Journal of Public Health, vol. 96 (4), pp. 664–669.

[iv]  Canadian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines. Ottawa: Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, 2012. Retrieved January 10, 2017 from http://www.csep.ca/CMFiles/Guidelines/CSEP_Guidelines_Handbook.pdf

[v] Physical Activity and Mental Health. Toronto: Physical Activity Resource Centre, 2016. Retrieved January 10, 2017 from http://slideplayer.com/slide/6630417/

[vi] Ontario Ministry of Education. (2015). The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1 – 8 (revised): Physical Health and Education Curriculum. Retrieved January 10, 2017 from www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/health1to8.pdf

Helping Students Get Their “Om” On

Why Yoga in the Classroom?

Yoga, as it exists in Ontario elementary schools consists of physical postures (asanas), breathing with awareness, developing self-concept, and a focus on relaxation. It moves beyond typical fitness concepts and helps students to make connections between their body and their mind. Yoga is referenced in the revised Ontario Elementary Curriculum document a total of 14 times. A significant change that took place in 2010 in order to promote a variety of physical activities to children and youth which will encourage physical activity across the lifespan.

The goals of classroom yoga are to increase strength, flexibility, and achieve balance for both the mind and the body. Beyond fitness and the development of fundamental movement skills such as balance and coordination, yoga can also be used for stretching, stress relief through breathing, as well as meditation to manage self-control, anger, depression, anxiety, and stress. Yoga can also been used in elementary schools to increase students focus and awareness, to make connections to moments of happiness, to improve self-confidence, and increase academic achievement.

Yoga in phys. ed. classes also promotes lifelong physical activity and wellness by engaging students who may not have an interest in typical games and activities. It can be used to diversify the program and provide students at different levels of physical fitness with an activity they can move through at their own pace while still participating actively in the program.

Sample Activities for Physical Education

Consider including some of these activities in your physical education or classroom practices:
Breathing Exercises: Have students take a few minutes to find a relaxing space in the gym or classroom and focus on their breath. Encourage students to breathe slowly in through their nose and out through their nose.Use the breath to calm or energize the body and to connect to the central nervous system.
Games: Integrate yoga postures into some favourite classroom games. When playing tag, have students who are tagged hold their favourite posture until they are freed. During classroom reading, have students create postures based on character traits of some lead characters.  
Yoga Poses: Have students move through teacher lead, peer lead, or individual yoga sequences. Have students create sequences based on those learned throughout the class. Consider displaying potential postures on chart paper or index cards and have students write their sequences done. Students can trade sequences to perform individually or lead small groups through their sequences.
Meditation & Reflection: In a relaxing position in the classroom or gymnasium, have students take a few minutes to think and reflect on experiences throughout the day, what makes them happy, what it takes to be a good friend, or a variety of topics or scenarios related to personal, interpersonal, and critical and creative thinking skills.

More Ideas to Connect the Mind to the Body

For more ideas on integrating yoga in the classroom, check out this video of highlights from my yoga workshop at the Ophea Conference 2011.

Video topics: Connections to Ontario Curriculum, Ontario Safety Guidelines, activities from the Ophea HPE Curriculum Resources, connections to Literacy.

Physical Activity and Mental Health Promotion in Schools

Over the past few months I’ve had an amazing opportunity to travel the province and work with teachers from across Northern Ontario providing professional learning on the benefits on Mental Health from Physical Activity. The statistics shared by CAMH are startling – “70% of mental health problems and illnesses have their onset during childhood or adolescence.” and ” The first symptoms and onset of major mental health disorders develop during adolescence and early adulthood; however, individuals in this age group are the least likely to access mental health services, with only one-third of those who need mental health services in Canada actually receiving them.”

This tells us that the children and youth who need the most supports aren’t getting them. Teachers then become vital in the process – not to diagnose – but to provide support, create a safe learning environment, and to observe children and youth for behaviour changes and warning signs over time.

Another role of the teacher is to break down the stigma and stereotypes associated with Mental Health. We can do this by becoming educated ourselves, challenging those who share information that is not correct, and starting the conversation with our students.

Check out this video from Ophea developed for their most recent youth focused resource YouThrive. Share it with your students and start the conversation.