'30 Minutes of Exercise a Day' launched in French schools

One education authority has become the first in France to introduce the '30 Minutes of Exercise a Day' policy in primary schools

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Jean-Marc Serfaty, inspector of education for sport in Créteil, said the scheme is a hit. “We are in touch daily with six of the participating schools and we have already seen benefits for the children and teachers. A few children say they are tired after, which alerts us to the fact they need to do more exercise, as they should not tire so quickly.

“None of the children have anything else negative to say. They work better in class as they look forward to being able to move and concentrate better after the session.”

Mr Serfaty hopes the experiment will continue and expand to as many schools as possible: “It is simple, flexible and fun. Children naturally want to be on the move but by asking them to sit at desks for most of the day, we are encouraging them to be inactive. This is a way to break that pattern and get them to enjoy exercise.”

An inspiration for the initiative is the Daily Mile, which was introduced in the UK by a headmistress in Scotland in 2012. Nearly 2.5million children now take part in 79 countries, and 242 schools have signed up in France.

The idea is simple: children spend 15 minutes a day running or jogging at their own pace during the school day at a time of the teacher’s choosing in the playground. They do not need to change clothes or shoes. There is no competition. It is an activity which needs no special equipment, no complicated organisation and is zero cost. A mile sounds a long way, but the association says most will be able to run for most, or all, of the way after four weeks.

There have been several studies into the positive effects of the initiative showing an increase in fitness, and it has a positive effect on the school environment.

In 2012, a programme inspired by a movement in Canada, the Grand Défi Vivez Bougez, was introduced into Occitanie. Schools can sign up to a month-long challenge where pupils collect as many “energy cubes”, equivalent to 15 minutes of continuous movement, as they can. They earn them at school but also in after-school clubs, at home with family, or playing catch with friends.

Some primary schools and collèges have introduced desks mounted on exercise bikes, vélos-bureaux. Pupils take it in turn to pedal while they study and teachers say it helps calm children when they are fidgety and is especially beneficial for those with learning difficulties because it helps them get rid of pent-up frustration.

The World Health Organisation recommends children aged five to 17 exercise at least 60 minutes a day and that recreational screen time should be limited.

The report says there has been no improvement in global levels of physical activity since 2001 and the situation is worse in high-income countries. Out of 146 countries, France is 119th in a table showing the amount of physical activity taken by teenagers. Government statistics say that 17% of youngsters are overweight, 4% of them obese.

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