Increasing physical activities at school has been shown to improve children’s mental health and wellbeing, according to research that assessed the effects of active learning through the iPLAY program.
iPLAY is an online professional learning program that encourages teachers to integrate physical activity into their daily lessons. It calls for 150 minutes of physical activity per week, including physical education and school sport, as well as energiser breaks in between classes.
The study, published in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, found that this level of physical activity integration left a positive impact on students’ subjective wellbeing, or happiness and life satisfaction.
Furthermore, the study showed improvements in students’ enjoyment during physical activities, PE, and sport across a 24-month period.
Findings from interviews with iPLAY participants also showed that involvement in the program led to sustained changes in the practices of teachers and school culture as a whole, allowing for greater emphasis on physical activity promotion.
“We know that embedding physical activity across the whole day has clear physical benefits for children, our study has demonstrated that changing school culture can also benefit students’ wellbeing,” said study co-lead David Lubans from the University of Newcastle. “In the initial evaluation of our program we observed significant improvements in students’ cardiorespiratory fitness.”
Additionally, researchers found that the iPLAY program could be scaled up to reach over 1,300 teachers and 30,000 primary school students in 115 NSW state schools, using a combination of face-to-face and online learning.
iPLAY co-creator Chris Lonsdale of the Australian Catholic University said providing teachers with the right tools to improve physical activity was crucial to the program’s success.
“This isn’t just about getting active in PE class, it’s about building movement into all lessons, from maths to science and time between these lessons,” said Lonsdale. “It’s about helping teachers learn new practices so that our kids see the benefits now and into the future. This means we see health benefits for all kids, not just those who excel at and enjoy sport.”
The research on the iPLAY program was funded through a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Partnership Project Grant and a grant from the NSW Department of Education’s School Sport Unit.