Why Teachers Need to Incorporate More Physical Activity Into Their Lesson Plans

By Frankie Wallace

Source: Pixabay

Finding a balance in the classroom can be difficult. Incorporating time for grammar, nutrition, mathematics, science, technology, and a plethora of other subjects is already hard all on its own. As if that wasn’t challenging enough, though, covering so many subjects without turning your class into a horde of zombie-children in the process can feel impossible. The lack of focus and increased levels of pent up energy that come with hours of trying to sit still and listen can be difficult to contain.

That’s where good old physical activity comes into play. It may be a simple concept, but the idea of incorporating exercise into the classroom is a critical ingredient for education success. 

Why Physical Activity Matters

Physical activity is a necessary part of life. The act of moving around, stretching your legs and getting your heart pumping faster should be intimately integrated into a long day in the classroom. 

We live in an era where the general lack of physical health isn’t just a concern, it’s an epidemic. Over a third of American adults are obese at this point, with a staggering 13 million of their children following suit. 

But the importance of moving around and getting regular exercise doesn’t stop with the weight issues. Physical activity can also help prevent things like heart disease, depression, and even the possibility of developing hypertension.

In addition, many studies suggest that getting a healthy amount of exercise throughout the day leads to better test performance, focus, concentration, and overall cognitive development.

It can even improve sleep. However, regarding that last point, it’s best to allow for at least three hours between the activity and the actual act of going to sleep. In other words, many students will need to exercise before or at school if they’re going to get their physical activity in early enough to feel the benefits at night.

Hence, the need to get moving in the classroom itself.

Incorporating Physical Activity Into the Classroom

The question that still remains, at this point, is how to get your students exercising without inciting a riot. Here are a few suggestions, with the caveat that each of these ideas should be personally adapted to your own school, classroom, students, teaching style, and curriculum.

Have a Game Plan in Place

The first thing you should consider before incorporating more movement into your class schedule is how to do so without inviting chaos in the process. As a general rule, it’s advisable to introduce any physical activity into your classroom with clear rules and boundaries in place and communicated to the students. This will provide a straightforward structure within which the exercise can take place.

Take Breaks

One simple way to get your students up and moving is to create regular breaks. Finland, for instance, is well-known for providing 15-minute breaks every hour. The practice has reportedly led to impressive results. 

The idea of a break is just as good for you, as the teacher, as it is for the students. The ability to get a little bit of exercise can help ease the stress that so many educators cope with on a regular basis.

Related: One Simple Way to Steal Time for Grading

Incorporate Apps

If you’re at a loss for how to find ways to get your students moving, consider looking for apps that can lend a helping hand. At this point, many developers have designed apps with the express purpose of helping to facilitate movement.

For instance, the app GoNoodle enables students to dance to popular songs. The Sworkit Kids app is another great way to get everyone working out together. All it takes is a couple of Google searches to see the wealth of application-based options geared towards physical activity that is available.

Go for a Class Walk

Walking burns 40 times more calories than sitting. Big surprise, right? While it’s understandably not always an option, if you can plan a nature walk or even just a walk around your school on a daily basis it can make a huge difference. 

Try to tie it in with something you’re learning. For instance, if you’re teaching elementary kids, go outside and have them count their steps or jump a certain number of times while skip counting. If your middle schoolers are in the midst of studying kingdoms in biology, have them look for plants, bugs, animals, etc. and categorize them as they walk.

Work Activity Into the Curriculum

Another option is to look for other ways to work physical activity into your curriculum right in the classroom. Have students act out events from history class, create a dance that represents a formula or concept they’re learning, and so on. When students can combine hands-on activities with something they’re currently studying, it can make the process much more relatable and thus, easier to understand and retain.

Create a Pair of Fitness Dice

Finally, consider designing a pair of fitness dice specifically for the needs of your classroom. Have your students get in on the project, voting on activities to include. Then, use them to get everyone up and moving with a particular, dice-rolled goal in mind.

Moving in the Classroom

Rolling fitness dice, going for a walk, taking scheduled breaks, and incorporating exercise apps are all great ways to get things moving. However you go about it, though, the important thing to keep in mind is the end goal: to increase the health and learning capabilities of your students. Not only will they benefit physically from the added exercise, but they’ll likely also find it easier to sit still, concentrate, and learn.


I am, once again, partnering with Angela Watson to help promote her 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club. It’s an online professional development program that has already helped more than 32,000 teachers take control of their time and stay focused on what matters most. The next cohort starts in July, and the Club has been updated to cover emerging best practices for the changes ahead. Click here to join!

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