Originally published Jan. 8, 2018 in the Pine Journal.

Minnesota elementary school students who met national recommendations for aerobic fitness are more likely to have a healthy weight and have better academic outcomes than students who didn’t meet those recommendations.

That’s according to a study of 14 elementary schools in central and northern Minnesota who are involved with the Active Schools Minnesota initiative, which assists students in reaching the national physical activity guideline of at least 60 minutes of movement every day. (Read the study’s report at health.state.mn.us/activeschoolsmn.)

fitness studyMoose Lake Elementary School and Winterquist Elementary in Esko participated in the evaluation and are featured in the report.Between 2014 and 2016, the Minnesota Department of Health — through its Statewide Health Improvement Partnership — worked with the Minnesota Department of Education on implementing and evaluating the initiative. Each school in the pilot study committed to implementing at least two strategies that increased students’ time in physical activity during and outside the school day, such as quality physical education and active recess.

Moose Lake implemented quality physical education and active classrooms strategies and Esko implemented active classrooms and before- and/or after-school physical activity strategies.

For Moose Lake, as a result of participation in the Active Schools Minnesota pilot study, physical activity became more a norm for the culture of the school. Classroom teachers gained a better understanding of the impact of physical activity on educational performance and became more committed to consistent daily physical activity opportunities throughout the day. By increasing time for physical education, the curriculum was enhanced and more physical activity class time was provided for students.

“Participation in this study was successful because it changed the mindset of teachers to incorporate physical activity into the school day,” said Ann Haugen, physical education teacher.

For Esko, as a result of being part of the Active Schools pilot study, the culture of the school shifted toward a foundation of movement for students both during and outside the school day. The district wellness policy now spells out that all students will have opportunities, support and encouragement to be physically active on a regular basis. The policy states that physical education is an integral component of the overall education of a child in preparation for health and wellness and should not be substituted for other physical activities. The policy also says that classroom teachers will provide short physical activity breaks between lessons or classes, as appropriate.

To learn more about the Active Schools Minnesota initiative, visit health.state.mn.us/activeschoolsmn.

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