Increasing physical activity: How movement creates a healthier mindset - AZEdNews
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Increasing physical activity: How movement creates a healthier mindset

Perlata Elementary Students Playing Tetherball During Recess. Photo By Brooke Martinez/ ASBA

Physical activity is one thing that can help students, parents supervising learning at home and school staff deal with increased stress and obesity, improve cognitive function for academic work, decrease discipline challenges and increase student engagement. It also leads to a healthier person – emotionally, mentally and physically.

Increasing physical activity: How movement creates a healthier mindset Dr.-Hesse-new-photo-smaller
Dr. WiSH – William S. Hesse, Ph.D., founder of Core Purpose Consulting

The latest statistics indicate that 1 in every 3 children born after the year 2000 will develop Type II diabetes by the time they are 18 years old and 18.5% of children ages 2-19 are considered obese. This means our children may live shorter lives than we will.

Because of these startling statistics, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control have recommended as part of their healthy school program that physical education be incorporated into core academic classes instead of just provided as an elective class.

The idea that physical activity can aid in a person’s physical fitness is nothing new. Lacrosse, one of the fastest growing sports in America, was invented and played by the Native Americans for physical activity and entertainment. You can also track exercise back as far as the ancient Egyptians and the ancient Greek Olympics began in 776 B.C. However, the idea that movement and physical activity can help with a person’s mood and mindset is lesser known and a relatively newer thought process.

This is the fourth of 12 articles in a series for AZEdNews on the school’s role in design and implementation of “healthy schools” across America. Featured resources are “The Ultimate Guide to Healthy Home Learning” and “The Ultimate Guide to Healthy School Design and Implementation.” Both are available at

Video: Core Purpose Consulting’s Healthy Home Learning Guide

Electric scooters for rent are popping up all over metropolitan areas across the country. The personal transportation tech company, Segway, sold 1 million units of these scooters in 2018 alone. According to a CNN article, 6 million tourists a year ride their self-balancing Segway PT’s around popular cities like San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

This trend eliminates a lot of therapeutic, day-to-day exercise. According to a report by the National Physical Activity Plan, nearly “19% of all trips taken in the U.S. are one mile or less, yet nearly 60% of those trips are driven.”

The brain learns best when in a calm state, this can be enhanced through physical activity; therefore, increasing learning potential. Learning occurs more effectively when standing verses sitting due to an increase in cerebral fluid flow.  As physical activity takes place, oxygen and blood flow are increased to the brain, bringing nutrients, the most important of which to brain function is glucose, the fuel of the brain.

Identifying challenges

In the past decade it has become more common for young people to spend the majority of their free time on electronic devices and engage in a sedentary lifestyle.

Related articles:

Eat your medicine: Nutrition’s impact on learning, behavior and social health

Building healthy communities: Redefining school culture

Increasing physical activity: How movement creates a healthier mindset

Healthy Home Learning Guide offer by Core Purpose Consulting

Emotional intelligence: How to express yourself responsibly

Cyberbullying: What it looks like for different ages

Increased anxiety during testing and how to fight back

This societal shift has been detrimental to individual wellness and the healthcare system. Sitting for extended periods of time tends to tighten anterior muscles, weaken posterior muscles, and cause general atrophy.  While this may sound like a minor and fixable problem, muscle imbalance leads to chronic pain and dysfunction.  Those are just some of the basic physical consequences of inactivity.

When an individual is plagued with physical pain and dysfunction, it can have a negative impact on the psyche as well.  It can be frustrating when your body does not feel well enough to participate in the activities you desire, and may even lead to other self-defeating attitudes and behaviors.  Add this to high medical premiums, massive amounts of over-the-counter options for pain relief, internet-driven self-diagnoses, and a rampant social media full of uneducated people offering their advice and “cures”, and it is clear to see how such a minor and fixable problem can spiral out of control to become a much worse dilemma.

To some degree, it is reversible.  It is common knowledge that increasing physical activity can improve physical health.  Depending on the activity, it can also facilitate social relationships, help to build a network of support, provide an outlet for stress relief, improve goal-setting and planning skills, and improve self-image.  All of these benefits contribute to wellness and an overall healthier mindset.

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A student’s perspective on physical activity benefits

In today’s society, many teens struggle with stress, anxiety, and depression. In these situations, it’s important to consider options to deal with these issues like physical activity, which can have a positive influence on a healthy mindset. Physical activity helps teens channel their mental thoughts and cognitive distortions into something they are passionate about. Being involved in a physical activity can develop support systems, which are vital to a healthy mindset.

Support systems are very important for a healthy mindset because that’s the place teens turn to for help. Through these activities teens are presented with the opportunity to meet new people who can later become a part of their support system. During physical activity, teens can clear their minds not only by channeling their frustrations into their passion, but by being able to vent with their peers and receive input on their situations.

“When I move my body feels better. It makes me want to learn.” – Ellie H. (9)

Generally speaking, people tend to be drawn to others with similar interests and lifestyles.  This is especially true with team sports, although it applies to any physical activity.  In team sports, you need additional team members in order to participate, and are more likely to recruit in social environments.  This encourages human interaction.  Playing team sports also helps develop skills in communication and provides an opportunity for supporting each other to achieve a common goal. 

When team sports are not an option during this period of social distancing, there are still communities within social media for people that want to engage in healthy habits. 

In fact, there are challenges that have surfaced on various social media platforms that foster healthy habits, as well as virtual human interaction.  Engaging in simple and fun challenges like the “Squats with your dog” challenge, “Push up” and “Plank” challenges, the many challenges that involve clever dance moves, and even more complex ones like parkour challenges can all give participants a sense of belonging to these communities.  Because these challenges are also competition driven, they can elevate both the level of physical fitness and the social engagement of the participants.

Increasing physical activity: How movement creates a healthier mindset Perlata-Elementary-Physical-Activity-1024x683
Perlata Elementary students playing tetherball during recess. Photo by Brooke Martinez/ ASBA

Physical activity as stress relief

Physical activity has long been used as an outlet for reducing stress.  A long run to clear your mind, a peaceful hike in a natural environment to seek inspiration, yoga, mindfulness and boxing to let out frustration are only a small sample of the many ways to reduce stress through movement.

With the recent social distancing, a lot of these activities are gaining popularity.  Even boxing, which generally requires a partner, can be done with a heavy bag or speed bag instead and will still have the same benefit of stress relief.

“Physical activity make me feel healthier, happier and helps me improve my focus in my home learning environment. The endorphins help me reduce stress and anxiety as well as make me overall a healthier kid.” – Emma (12)

There are many ways movement can positively impact a person’s mindset. Physical activity is known to relieve stress and anxiety, enhance self-confidence and body image, and create healthier sleeping habits.

The more a body moves, the more endorphins, also known as “feel-good hormones”, are released from the brain. These endorphins work by helping to block pain receptors, reducing the perception of pain, triggering positive feelings in the body similar to morphine. Studies show that the more we move, the more endorphins are released resulting in a happier, healthier person.

How it helps self-image

Evidence suggests that individuals that regularly participate in sports and physical activity are also more confident and motivated in other areas of their life.  Pushing yourself both physically and mentally is a key element in athletic activity, and it makes sense that when you achieve success by doing such, you are encouraged to repeat it.  Repeated success contributes to higher self-esteem. 

As technology is constantly improving and becoming even more appealing to the masses, it is important to not allow it to get in the way of regular physical activity.  In fact, with some forward thinking and planning, technology can be used to promote regular physical activity.  Simple dance challenges on social media are already a great start, but a lot more is needed to reverse the health challenges that the younger generations are facing.

“Anxiety is a huge part of my life. I struggle with maintaining normal stress and anxiety levels everyday, but I use dancing as a place to clear my head into something I love. I put on my shoes and dance like no one’s watching.” – Megan (14)

Family, Staff and Community Engagement: Involving all stakeholders is a key component to connecting, establishing and sustaining healthy mindsets with physical activity. In the Ultimate Guide to Healthy Home Learning and the Ultimate Guide to Healthy School Design and Implementation, visit the Student Wellness Advocacy Teams (S.W.A.T.), School Health Advisory Council (S.H.A.C.), Healthy Workspace and Healthy Worksite sections of this Guides to incorporate this physical activity arena.

Physical Activity During Learning Time: In the Ultimate Guide to Healthy Home Learning and the Ultimate Guide to Healthy School Design and Implementation, visit the Movement Driven Learning, Healthy Hour, Recess Programming and Minutes Out of Your Seat Portions of this Guide to accomplish this physical activity arena. The Core Purpose Minutes Out of Your Seat – A comprehensive professional development that is aligned to your curriculum to ensure you are addressing the essential learning that you have determined while incorporating movement within your daily instruction. Daily tracking on the minutes tracker sheet of how many instructional minutes are utilized with embedding movement into your lesson plans. This contest delivers prizes to the top teachers with the most “Minutes Out of Your Seat.”

Physical Education: With the understanding that physical activity increases academic success, finding opportunities to increase physical education time and classes may involve some mindsets to inspire, but in the end impact your home learning or school immensely. IE offering Physical Education for every student every year versus splitting a year with multiple specials or health classes. This will help establish the CDC’s recommendation of establishing Physical Education as a core content area class vs. an elective class. Combine PE classes in an interdisciplinary approach with other classes (one subject area per month). IE HIstory and PE Capture the Flag showing the movements of war fronts.

Before and After School Programming: This is an important step to look at the inclusion of all students on your campus as well as after school athletic programs. Locate a space, a supervisor of the activities and utilize S.W.A.T. leaders to run the activities. Start with one or two activities and continue to grow as you seem fit to your budget and school. The more diverse activities and space you can provide, the more students will utilize. This can be set up utilizing the same equipment and space as Healthy Hour for 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after school. A few high school role models are Sandra Day O’Connor High School and Central High School. The have some of the best examples of this physical activity opportunities in Arizona.

“The definite sense of belonging is one of great comfort to me after being personally surrounded by mentally draining environments all day. When stressed I head to the gym to get a workout in and help focus my stress into lifting. Working out at the gym I feel like I belong and can let go of the world, simply put.” – Alex (17)

Home Learning/Classroom: In our last article we discussed how culture can determine the success of a school, and creating a healthy school culture with the means to connect physical activity before, during and after school can considerably increase the components that make up high levels of Emotional Intelligence. The act of physical activity offers many benefits besides the obvious cardio and physical health benefits. Physical activity incorporates mindfulness, concentration, problem solving, being aware of one’s emotions as well as facing challenges in ways that can self-regulate and practice emotional intelligence as a whole. There is a direct relation between movement and a healthier mindset.

Society is at a curious point in its development, with regards to its population’s health and wellness. By now the general public is aware of the importance of exercise and physical activity as it directly relates to our physical health. This has been driven through us since we were in grade school playing dodge ball in our physical education class. However, trends in modern society, the world we live in, are gearing toward a lack of movement in our day-to-day lives.

Technology: As technology is constantly improving and becoming even more appealing to the masses, it is important to not allow it to get in the way of regular physical activity.  In fact, with some forward thinking and planning, technology can be used to promote regular physical activity.  Simple dance challenges on social media are already a great start, but a lot more is needed to reverse the health challenges that the younger generations are facing. With advancements in technology, people can now control their “smart” house from the comfort of their own couch, car, or from across the country if they want to. Everything is going wireless, portable, and voice activated, resulting in an unbelievable amount of ways that society is becoming more and more sedentary. As technology continues to advance, we must resist the urge to allow technology to rule our lives for the sake of, not just our physical health, but our mental health, as well.

Integration of content is a highly effective manner in which to build time into the day for movement and physical activity, while at the same time enhancing learning and cognitive function of the students.  More examples will be shown during professional development and through our website

Parent Perspective: As a parent, continue to advocate for health and wellness in your school and district. Connect your child with health and wellness at home together with school. These two entities should not be separate. A healthy and active lifestyle starts at the Pre-K and Kindergarten levels. Continue to bridge the gap between your school and home in regards to health and wellness. We are all striving to have an everlasting impact on our children to be the most healthy and active they could be, so these behaviors transfer to adult habits. And often times, you will notice these habits help prevent tobacco, substance abuse or alcohol habits as well. A more healthy and active child will grow to be a more healthy and active adult.

“ As a parent of multiple students enrolled in K-12 school I have seen the amazing benefits that physical activity has had on my children. In particular one of my children has seen an increase in academics grades and social skills. Being a team member of the middle school basketball team has helped increase my students grades from a (2.0 to a 2.6 & 3.0). Along with the academic gains my child’s social and emotional wellness have also improved. Where she was struggling to make new friends at this new school, now I have witness her and her friends laughing, joking, and inviting each other over to play outside of school.”

Setting Up for Success: USDA ruling for schools: What can a school leader, parent, or teacher do in order to begin to move in a positive direction regarding becoming more healthy and active.  The first step will be to establish a School Health Advisory Council (SHAC).  A SHAC should have 12 -14 members and should have representation from parents, teachers, students and community stakeholders.  The purpose of the SHAC is to guide the mission and direction of the school regarding health and wellness.  The establishment of a SHAC is not optional; it is required by Federal ruling.  

In July of 2010 Congress authorized the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 in order to strengthen Healthy Women, Infants, and Children Reauthorization Act from 2004.  In July of 2016, The USDA Food and Nutrition Service finalized regulations to create a framework and guidelines for written wellness plans and policies that have been established by Local Education Agencies (LEA’s).  This finalization requires that local school wellness policy during the 2016- 2017 school be revised.   LEA’s must comply with the requirements of the final rule by June 30, 2017 or face the possible loss of

National School Lunch Program funding.   The new rule specifies the following criteria must be met:

  • Specific goals for nutrition promotion and education, physical activity, and other school-based activities that promote wellness (recess).
  • Standards for nutrition guidelines for all foods and beverages sold to students on the school campus during the school day must meet Federal regulations:
    • School meal nutrition standards
    • Smart Snacks in School nutrition Standards
  • Standards for all foods and beverages provided, but not sold to students (classroom parties, snacks, food as incentives)
  • Policies for food and beverage marketing that allow marketing and advertising of only foods and beverages that meet Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards.
  • Description of public involvement, public updates, policy leadership, and evaluation plan.
  • There must be one person in the district with responsibility of making sure that every school in the LEA is in compliance.
  • The LEA must, at a minimum, permit participation by the general public and the school community, to include parents, students and representatives from the food industry, Physical Education teachers, school health professionals, the school board, and school administrators in the wellness policy process.
  • The State agencies are required to assess compliance with the wellness policy requirements every three years.
  • The LEA must assess progress, evaluate programming, and make comparison to model programs throughout the country.
  • The State agency will examine records during the three year review including the following:
    • Copy of the current wellness policy
    • Documentation of how the assessment of the policy is made available to the public.
    • The most recent assessment of the implementation of the policy
    • Documentation of efforts to review and update the policy, including who was involved in the process and how stakeholders were made aware of their ability to participate.

This finalization spells big changes for districts and schools throughout the country and will require significant work on the part of the school and the community to complete.   As a company, Core Purpose Consulting wants to assist with this process and has resources and expertise to make the process successful and fully inclusive  (US Department of Agriculture – Food and Nutrition Services, 2016). Consulting, doesn’t make your decision for you as to which program you want to engage in or which award you want to win; all of the programs are robust and committed to improving movement, nutrition, and policy in schools. 

Our firm, Core Purpose Consulting wants to help determine your needs, help establish your goals, and facilitate those goals coming to fruition.  In other words, we don’t want to rearrange someone else’s living room furniture, we just want to help put furniture in the place that the owner wants it to be; you decide where you want to go, we help you get there.

Principals / Teachers

As the building principal, control over the leadership of the direction of the school lies in your hands.  First and foremost, administrators can comply with the final rule of the FNS in the development of a wellness plan.   In addition to, and as a part of that plan, some things to consider are as follows:

  • Scheduling
    • How can recess fit into the school day?  Lunch?  Brain breaks for kids and staff?  Professional development throughout the school year to enhance and improve teacher knowledge of health and wellness.
  • Fund-Raising
    • How can the parent group at the school raise funds without selling candy bars or soda? 
    • Ideas for non-food ways to raise funds:  fun runs, community health fairs, selling fruit at after school events and carnivals, promoting water consumption through-out the day, vending snacks meeting all standards of the new ruling.
    • How will vending machines on campus need to be changed?
  • Instruction
    • How will instruction change so that physical activity and movement do not impact time on task in the classroom?
    • How can health, wellness, and nutrition education fit into the current school day?
  • Staff Buy-In
    • How do you get a staff that is used to using gummy bears or candy as a reward in class to change the mindset?
    • How do you encourage staff not to take away recess as a form of punishment?
    • How do build teacher confidence in teaching about nutrition, health, and wellness?

The list above is certainly not all-inclusive.   There are a variety of considerations for principals and teachers as schools move forward with becoming a comprehensive healthy school.  

The bottom line is that purposeful and intentional movement leads to a cycle of positivity in our lives. Exercising helps build a positive self-image, which leads to more self-confidence, which in turn leads to a more ambitious way of life. This includes goal setting and achievement, developing healthy eating and sleeping habits, and a general positive outlook on life.

Educators are hard-working, under-paid warriors on the frontlines of society.   It is the hope of the authors that the evidence presented in the AzEdNews healthy school series, the many schools who are doing these things, that educators can have the confidence to do what they know to be right, to educate children as whole people.   We, as educators and parents, do not have to choose between meeting the basic needs of physical activity, nutrition, and emotional wellness vs. students performing well academically; we can and should be doing both.

Increasing physical activity: How movement creates a healthier mindset Dr-William-Hesse-photo-and-contact-number-1024x582
Contact information for Dr. WiSH – William S. Hesse Ph.D.


The Ultimate Guide to Healthy School Design and Implementation can be purchased at

“Recess was My Favorite Subject Where Did it Go?” can be purchased on

Our MISSION at Core Purpose Consulting is to revolutionize education by shifting the focus to the Whole Child…By helping schools to achieve healthy school and community environments, movement driven learning concepts, educational equity, healthy leadership, physical education and activity programs, nutrition programs, and complete active school programming.

Our VISION… Connecting… Inspiring… Revolutionizing.

Whether you are a new healthy school, a developing healthy school or a healthy school that excels already, The Ultimate Guide to Healthy School Design and Implementation is customizable to meet your school’s needs.

If at any time you need assistance with any aspect, feel free to contact us. Our team is also available to assist with trainings and professional development needs specific to each module. We are happy to help make your school’s “WiSH” come true.