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.

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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

Physical & emotional safety is a precondition for learning in H&PE

Students learn best in an environment that is physically and emotionally
safe. In health and physical education, we often think of the need to keep our students physically safe. We have them checking to ensure their shoes are laced, hair is tied, and jewellery is removed. There is physically an inherent risk, and we want to do as much as we can to reduce it.

As educators we need to keep in mind that students learning is occurring in a public space where others can see them explore, learn, succeed, and make mistakes, and because of this, students emotionally safety should be top of mind as well. Student’s also discuss health topics that may be personal, and have implications for their personal health and well-being, so creating an inclusive and emotionally safe environment is critical.

Teachers need to provide a physically and emotionally safe environment for learning by emphasizing the importance of safety in physical activity, treating students with respect at all times, being sensitive to individual differences, following all board safety guidelines, and providing an inclusive learning environment that recognizes and respects the diversity of all students and accommodates individual strengths, needs, and interests.

A recent video from Ophea shares how some teachers in Ontario are bringing these concepts to life. Check it out!

Is your learning environment physically and emotionally safe? Ask yourself these reflection questions from the Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum, 2015.

Self-check Questions:

  • Is instruction designed to ensure a positive experience in a safe, inclusive, and
    supportive environment for all students?
  • Are all school board safety and equity guidelines being followed?
  • Are intentional steps being taken by educators and students to build skills for
    healthy relationships and ensure that bullying and harassment are prevented, or
    addressed if and when they occur, in the change room, the gym, outdoors, and in
    all learning spaces?
  • Are activities being modified or adapted as required to ensure that all students
    are included?
  • Is exercise presented as a positive and healthy experience rather than being used
    as punishment?
  • Does the program ensure maximum participation for all by avoiding activities
    in which students may be eliminated from play, and thereby deprived of
    opportunities to participate, practise, and improve?
  • Are teams designated in ways that are inclusive and fair, avoiding potentially
    insensitive methods of selection (e.g., having teams chosen by student captains)?
  • Are students’ diverse backgrounds taken into account when health topics are
    introduced, to ensure that discussions have personal relevance and that topics
    are addressed with sensitivity?

How schools, families, and community can work together to support healthy active living.

With a revised curriculum for Health and Physical Education has come not only new expectations to help keep learning current and connected to students real lives, but Ontario teachers also have a new set of five Fundamental Principles of which to guide their teaching. These Fundamental Principles can act as a self check for teachers to personally evaluate their instructional practices and teachings. In order to support the understanding of these Fundamental Principles I’ve had the pleasure of supporting Ophea (the provincial subject association for Health and Physical Education) create a variety of tools to share the Fundamental Principles including a series of conversation starters videos which teachers can use to self-check and promote best practices.

This past week the first of five videos was released. The topic is on Fundamental Principle number one, “Health and physical education programs are most effective when they are delivered in healthy schools and when students’ learning is supported by school staff, families, and communities”. Check out what some leaders in Ontario H&PE have to say, and how they bring this Fundamental Principle to life in and out of the gym and health room.