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Concept to Action Making Health Academic Home Concept to Action

Action Steps

Comprehensive School Health Education

School Counseling, Psychological, and Social Services

Healthy School Environment

Family and Community Involvement

School Health Services

School Nutrition

Physical Education

Health Promotion for Staff

Action Steps for Implementing Physical Education

High-quality physical education programs are an integral part of any coordinated school health program (CSHP).  In childhood and adolescence, regular participation in physical activity helps prevent many chronic diseases and maintain an overall healthy lifestyle.1 Unfortunately, many schools are decreasing the availability of physical education programs and daily recess are on. 

 From 1991 to 1999, the percentage of students who attended daily physical education classes declined from 42% to 29%.  The majority of high school students take physical education for only one year between 9th and 12th grades.2  Currently, only 8% of elementary schools, 6% of middle/junior high schools, and 6% of senior high schools provide daily physical education, or it’s equivalent, for the entire school year.

 To remedy this situation, we need to know that everyone can do something about promoting and implementing physical education into a CSHP and why this is important.  With standards based achievement now mandatory for all schools, research shows that increased physical activity leads to higher test scores in math, reading and writing, increased concentration in class, and a decrease in disruptive behavior.3  This research reveals that schools need to be where youth learn the benefits of and participate in a quality physical education program.  Achieving this can be as simple as mandating daily recess periods and extracurricular activities, such as after-school competitive sports, into school policy.  Below you will find action steps and resources to help implement physical education into a CSHP.

Actions for Schools

  • Provide effective, enjoyable instructional programs of physical education, preferably daily, for all students in kindergarten through grade 12 based on a written curriculum consistent with national standards for physical education.
  • Offer programs that meet the needs of special populations
  • Ensure that physical education is taught by a qualified teacher with a degree in physical education
  • Provide teachers with in-service training in physical activity promotion and coaches with appropriate coaching competencies
  • Provide formal instruction in physical education for a minimum of 150 minutes per week for elementary school and 225 minutes per week for middle and high school
  • Make sure indoor and outdoor facilities are adequate, clean, safe and open to students during non-school hours and vacations
  • Have technology incorporated on a regular and continuing basis
  • Develop and enforce policies that support physical education
  • Secure adequate funds to provide enough equipment for every student to participate
  • Create an environment that supports physical activity as part of a coordinated school health program
  • Involve families and communities in the promotion of physical activity
  • Systematically assess physical education programs and the outcomes of physical education programs and use the results for program improvement

Actions for State and National Organizations and Colleges and Universities

  • Promote physical activity as a measure to prevent chronic disease
  • Collaborate with local agencies to share best practices and effective solutions
  • Develop and disseminate assessment systems that individuals can use to determine their health and fitness status
  • Allow third-party reimbursement for health care providers who regularly assess and counsel children and their families about physical activity
  • Provide incentives through health insurance and employee wellness programs to students and school staff who engage in active lifestyles
  • Develop guidelines that recommend the frequency, duration, and quality of offerings in physical education and hold schools accountable for meeting those guidelines
  • Adopt and enforce certification requirements that are consistent with national standards for those who teach physical education and provide staff development
  • Ensure quality of school buildings and facilities used for students' and school staff's physical activities and provide funds for construction of safe facilities for physical activity
  • Refine and enhance the quality of pre-service and in-service education that addresses physical education as a component of a multidisciplinary coordinated school health program
  • Fund or conduct research that can inform and support school physical education
  • Include in the health care reform agenda incentives for participation in physical activity

Actions for Families and Communities

  • Advocate for physical education classes and after-school programs that are attractive to all students by encouraging school administrators and board members to support activities that promote lifelong physical fitness, not just competitive sports
  • Make sure the physical education program includes adequate student participation in practices and contests with no discrimination based on ability, gender or race
  • Volunteer to help children's sports teams and recreation programs
  • Teach children safety rules and make sure that they have the clothing and equipment needed to participate safely in physical activity
  • Ensure that physical facilities meet or exceed safety standards
  • Work with schools, businesses, and community groups to ensure that low-income young people have transportation and appropriate equipment for physical activity programs
  • Communicate with schools, teachers and coaches about appropriate physical education including competitive sports teams

Adapted by permission of the publisher from Marx, E. & Wooley, S. F. (Eds.) (1998). Health is academic: A guide to coordinated school health programs. New York: Teachers College Press. 1998 by Education Development Center, Inc. All rights reserved.

1Journal of School Health Vol. 71, No. 7, SHPPS 2000: School Health Policies and Programs Study
2Action for Healthy Kids Fact Sheet Nutrition, Physical Activity and Achievement

Action steps were updated (2002) and adapted from the National Association for Sport & Physical Education It's Time for Your School's Physical Education Checkup: How Are You Doing? and CDC's School Health Program Guidelines Promoting Lifelong Physical Activity Amount Young People

For a more detailed discussion of Physical Education, see the book Health Is Academic.


Fact Sheet: Nutrition, Physical Activity and Achievement, Action for Healthy Kids

Guidelines for School and Community Programs to Promote Lifelong Physical Activity Among Young People, CDC

National Standards for Physical Education, NASPE

Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, Office of the Surgeon General

Promoting Better Health for Young People Through Physical Activity and Sports, CDC

SHI: School Health Index, CDC

Related Links

American Association for Active Lifestyles & Fitness

American College of Sports Medicine

American Heart Association

National Association for Sport and Physical Education

National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

President's Council for Physical Fitness and Sports

For other organizations that support school health, click on Links.


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