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Children playing sport

New program improves kids' heart health and fitness


Running, jumping, climbing – you would assume these are the typical activities of Aussie kids. However in reality, children in our sport-loving nation have worryingly low rates of physical activity. But hope is not lost, and new research has discovered an ingenious way to lift the level of physical activity among our youth. 

Only one in five Australian children are meeting the national daily physical activity guidelines. Or, put another way, 80 per cent of Australian children don’t do 60 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity each day.

Whether you blame it on overprotective ‘helicopter’ parenting, too much screen time, or small to non-existent gardens, the stark reality is that Australian kids are simply not moving enough. And the consequences can be tragic, as physical inactivity is a significant risk factor for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Game-changer that gets kids moving 

ACU’s Institute for Positive Psychology and Education (IPPE) and University of Newcastle’s Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition have created a new online teacher training program to help battle inactivity in children.  

Named iPLAY, the program equips teachers with the skills and resources to involve students in 150 minutes of planned physical activity at school each week, including high-quality physical education and school sport, and two to three ‘classroom energiser’ breaks. 

Co-creator of the program, Professor Chris Lonsdale from ACU’s IPPE, said it was a game-changer for improving aerobic fitness and heart health in children.

“The program has been rolled out to more than 20,000 state primary school students in 90 schools throughout New South Wales (NSW). And the results have been astounding,” said Professor Lonsdale.

“iPLAY has cut the cardiovascular disease risk in kids due to poor aerobic fitness by more than 50 per cent in those primary schools using the program.” 

Originally trialled in eight NSW schools, the study found students increased their aerobic fitness by more than 20 per cent over a 12-month period when their teacher had completed the professional development.   

Kids playing games

Physical activity lesson plans for time-poor teachers   

Teachers have a lot on their plate. And the creators of iPLAY considered teachers’ long list of professional demands when developing the program, ensuring it provided flexibility and a wealth of education resources. 

“As much of the course is online, teachers can learn iPLAY at any time,” Professor Lonsdale said. “Teachers can also download hundreds of additional resources and lesson plans to help them improve students’ fitness and fundamental movement skills.”  

University of Newcastle’s Professor David Lubans, co-creator of iPLAY, said the program helps teachers to promote physical activity at school and forge crucial partnerships with parents, community sport and recreation clubs to encourage activity beyond the school setting.   

“Currently in NSW, primary school teachers’ university training tends to focus largely on teaching literacy and numeracy, with little time spent specifically on physical education and physical activity promotion,” he said.

“iPLAY gives teachers the confidence to ensure they are running effective physical education and sport lessons. It provides them with fresh, evidence-based content to enhance health, wellbeing, and learning. It also shows teachers how to use physical activity breaks between academic lessons to enhance student concentration. In short, it gives the students both fitness and focus.”

Playing for keeps 

Funded by the NSW Department of Education and the National Health and Medical Research Council, iPLAY is offered free for up to 150 NSW government primary schools. 

Professor Lonsdale hopes iPLAY will go much, much further than that. 

“I’d like to see iPLAY rolled out to NSW’s remaining schools and eventually be offered to all Australian schools,” he said. “Our kids deserve it.”  

ACU’s Institute for Positive Psychology and Education conducts world-class research addressing critical educational and psychosocial issues. 

Professor Chris Lonsdale is from ACU's Insitute for Positive Psychology and Education. His research examines the motivational underpinnings of behaviour in a variety of contexts, including education, healthcare, and physical activity. 

Chris Lonsdale

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Impact brings you compelling stories, inspiring research, and big ideas from ACU. It's about the impact we’re having on our communities, and our Mission in action. It’s a practical resource for career, life and study.

At ACU it’s education, but not as you know it. We stand up for people in need, and causes that matter.

If you have a story idea or just want to say hello, do contact us.

Copyright @ Australian Catholic University 1998-2018 | ABN 15 050 192 660 CRICOS Reg: 00004G