Physical activity as important as literacy and numeracy: academic

If their class runs for more than an hour, teachers at Emmaus Catholic College in Sydney's west will take students outside for a few minutes to do relay races or run around.

When they come back into the classroom, the students are more engaged and settled, according to Kyle Churchill, a physical education teacher at the school and a junior Penrith Panthers coach.

The school-wide approach is being led by the physical education department, which has been trying to educate teachers in all subject areas on the importance of movement for children's overall development.

"Science shows you need to move and increase blood flow to help your brain function at its best and increase engagement," Mr Churchill said.

Mr Churchill said more teachers at Emmaus have been incorporating the breaks into their lessons, but a wider intervention is needed to lift physical education in all schools.

"The end goal of school is the HSC and that's what students are judged on when they leave, so I see the reason they've focused on literacy and numeracy," Mr Churchill said.

"But as much as they've put in interventions for that, I think they need to do more in physical education. There would be massive benefits to investing in physical education and there's a massive gap there.

"In the past few years we've recognised that kids aren't outside as much as they should be and we're seeing a decline in ability, not just at an elite level but at the fundamental level."

More than 27 per cent of school-aged children and 63 per cent of adults were overweight or obese in 2014-15, according to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data.

Nearly 15 per cent of people aged between 18 and 64 said they were inactive, while another 30 per cent did less than the recommended 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week.

Associate professor of physical education and sport at Flinders University and president of the Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation Shane Pill said "physical activity is as important as literacy and numeracy" in schools.

"Quite rightly, we're concerned with the literacy and numeracy skills of young people, but if we want to improve scores in NAPLAN, getting young people active is a way to improve those outcomes," Dr Pill said.

"There is strong evidence to support the role physical activity plays in healthy cognitive development and the association between physical health and academic achievement."

Dr Pill said young children should ideally take a break every half an hour and do something that gets their heartrate up, while older students and adults shouldn't go more than 45 minutes to an hour without doing any physical activity.

However, he said that while the Australian curriculum includes physical education and activity guidelines, most students are not spending enough time outside the classroom.

"It's certainly not my experience that there are many schools that are taking students outside enough," Dr Pill said.

"We can't afford not to be developing physical literacy, and school is the only place we can guarantee children will have access to physical education because not all children will have access to community sport and not all parents will be able to afford the costs of joining a sport."

This story Physical activity as important as literacy and numeracy: academic first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.