Notes From a Public Health Nurse: Getting Active In The Classroom

Image says "Join the movement. Bike. Walk. Play. activeto.caWhat do you think of when you hear the word “classroom”? I doubt “health” is a word that comes to mind. When you think of the classroom you probably think of learning.  But why not use that learning opportunity as a chance to promote healthy behaviours? Classrooms are a safe environment where cultural and social norms can be established and reinforced. Together with your students, you can create a space where learning can also include health.

In this series of blog posts, Toronto Public Health will share ideas to bring health into your classroom. This week I will focus on physical activity.

Being active has many immediate benefits such as

  • reducing stress,
  • improving sleep,
  • and increasing energy.

In addition to that, being active reduces the risk of developing

  • type 2 diabetes,
  • heart disease,
  • and cancer.

Despite the importance physical activity plays for both mental and physical health, many of us are not active enough.

The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults get 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity a week. You may wonder what “moderate” and “vigorous” mean.  Moderate activities will cause you to sweat a little (riding your bike, brisk walk), while vigorous ones will make you sweat and be out of breath (jogging, cross country skiing).  It is recommended that you are active in bouts of 10 or more minutes at a time.

Why Are We Not Meeting These Guidelines?

As a society we sit far too much. Many people sit in front of a computer for hours at a time, and then continue that behaviour in their leisure time by sitting in front of a television or other screens, such as tablets or laptops.

Generally speaking, we can all benefit by moving more. Your students may have had much more active lifestyles in their home countries, but it is important to encourage them to continue to be active here in Canada.

How Can You Get Your Students Involved?

This does not have to happen overnight. Encourage your students to start slowly and gradually build their way up to meeting the physical activity guidelines. For example, encourage your students to start with a leisurely 10-minute walk daily, and slowly increase the length of time walking and their speed.

As valuable as it is to talk about the importance of staying physically active, helping students get started can be of benefit to both of you (remember, we can all benefit from moving more!). Building physical activity into the day is a great way to get the recommended 150 minutes, especially given that for most of us, there is not enough time in the day to fit it all in.

Walking is an excellent way to get the benefits of being active and it is free! Encourage walks during break or lunch times. Students can map out their routes together – this can also be a great way to get to know the neighbourhood.

Another strategy that can be used in the classroom is a sitting timer. Set a timer for 30 minutes and once the timer goes off, everyone stands up and participates in a group stretch or simple activity. To make things easier, check out the gifs (video clips) at this link: or, use this as an opportunity to get students to take on leadership roles.  Each day, assign a different student to lead the activity/stretch break.

Looking for More Ideas?

We want to support you to promote health in the classroom. Contact Toronto Public Health at 416-338-7600 to request a consultation with the Public Health Nurse working in your Toronto neighbourhood. There are also curriculum supports available including lesson plans and resource tools available at this link:

And for those of you who work, live or play in the City of Toronto, check out for free physical activity ideas and information on how to add physical activity into your day!

Stay tuned for upcoming posts in this health series!  Next up, one of our Registered Dietitians will give you the scoop on healthy eating.

Post written by Toronto Public Health


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