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Policies to Support Physical Activity in Schools

posted on Tue, May 22 2018 4:05 pm by The Network for Public Health Law

Regular physical activity in childhood and adolescence is important for promoting lifelong health and well-being and preventing various health conditions. The national recommendation is that children and adolescents aged 6 to 17 years should have 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day. The national recommendation for schools is to have a comprehensive approach for addressing physical education and physical activity in schools.

A requester recently contacted the Network regarding policies designed to support physical activity in large school districts. The requester had identified materials on safe routes to school, but had difficulty finding policies and resources related to recess and classroom activities that supported physical activity.

The Network identified several resources related to initiatives designed to encourage physical activity among school children.

Physical Activity Generally

One important baseline is to determine what state law requires. According to this 2017 report on physical activity requirements by the Council on State Governments, Idaho has a physical education time requirement for elementary schools.

The State of Alaska Division of Public Health has produced guidance on physical activity in schools, including what it calls a gold standard wellness policy, dated 2016.

Active Living Research produced a 2011 brief on school policies on physical education and activity, a 2011 physical activity policy assessment, and a longer 2011 research synthesis.

The Physical Activity Policy Research Network, with support from CDC, has supported assessment of district-wide PE policies as well as examination of implementation of PE policies.


SHAPE America (the Society of Health and Physical Educators) has a 2016 guide for recess policy. The policy guide was followed in 2017 by a toolkit produced by the CDC in collaboration with SHAPE America. The toolkit includes strategies and a guide to planning and implementation. The National Association of Chronic Disease Directors has collected several templates and sample policies. The CDC has collected additional resources on recess on its website.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a 2013 policy statement supporting school recess. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has produced a 2017 issue brief on recess policies, including an executive summary. Active Living Research has a 2013 brief on the relationship of school physical education policies to recess policies and practice. In 2013, Edutopia examined the research on the link between school climate and recess policies.

Classroom Activities

The CDC has collected materials on classroom activities to support physical activity on its website

Joint Use Agreements

The County Health Rankings and Roadmaps What Works website has a 2015 update on joint use agreements to support physical activity on school grounds, including during non-school hours. The information includes implementation examples from a variety of school districts.

A 2015 CDC article discussed findings from a 2012 survey related to joint use agreements in school districts.

Mind-Body Activity and Social-Emotional Learning

There is an emerging body of research and practice related to mind-body activity in the schools. There are at least three ways these types of approaches tend to be framed: yoga, mindfulness, and social-emotional learning.


A 2015 survey article examines school-based yoga programs across the U.S.


The Pure Edge Foundation offers curriculum to support mindfulness and focus. The organization Mindful Schools provides resources. Some popular accounts address use of mindfulness to improve student behavior, including implementation in Colorado schools.

Social-emotional learning

The Collaborative on Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has collected the research on the impact of social emotional learning, including a 2017 meta analysis of SEL. Through its collaborating districts initiative, CASEL is working with school districts across the country on implementation.