Washington State Nutrition & Physical Activity Plan
Physical Activity Obj. 2:
Priority Recommendation A
Adopt school-based curricula and policies that provide quality, daily physical education for all students

Children who are physically active in school have lower risk of chronic disease.(1) Quality physical education (PE) can help prevent obesity and promote lifelong physical fitness.(2) As part of an integrated Coordinated School Health Program, (Appendix E) a quality PE program helps ensure students’ well-being and readiness to learn. Time spent on PE at school does not diminish learning in other areas such as math, reading, and science.(2)

A high quality physical education program:

  • Emphasizes knowledge and skills for a lifetime of physical activity.
  • Meets the needs of all students.
  • Keeps students active for most of the PE class time.
  • Teaches self-management as well as movement skills.
  • Is an enjoyable experience for students.(3)

Recommendations for Physical Education

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends 150 minutes a week of PE for elementary school

In 2006, only 35% of 10th graders in Washington said they participated in physical education class on a daily basis. However, most 10th graders said they exercised for 20 minutes or more during PE class, regardless of how many days per week their PE class was scheduled. 

children and 225 minutes for middle and secondary school children. While some schools allow students to be exempted from physical education, many school districts have adopted strong policies that strictly limit PE waivers.
Washington requires at least 100 minutes of PE per week for elementary and middle school students. In 2010, the recommendation increases to 150 minutes. See Appendix D for the Washington PE requirements.

Key Strategies for Effective PE Programs

Teach skills that promote lifelong physical activity.

Some activities such as walking, dancing, swimming, hiking, and cycling are more likely than others to be continued past the school years. School PE programs help students adopt lifelong healthy lifestyles when they foster positive attitudes about physical activity and build skills for activities that can be enjoyed for many years. The best PE programs reflect the physical and mental development of children. These programs start with basic movement skills in the early grades, discourage early specialization in specific sports and offer a broad range of learning opportunities through childhood and adolescence.(4)

Increase time that students are actively involved in PE at school.

In some schools students do not actually move very much during their PE classes. Children are more active in classes that are taught by teachers who have specialized PE training, focused on fitness and based on curriculum designed to keep students active during most of the class.(5) Longer class sessions are associated with higher levels of moderate and vigorous activity and improved fitness levels.(6)

Train teachers in physical education and enhance the training of physical education teachers.

Well trained teachers are prepared to plan, implement and evaluate successful physical education programs. Compared to non-specialists, PE specialists teach longer lessons, spend more class time on developing skills, impart more knowledge, and provide more moderate and vigorous physical activity. CDC recommends that school districts hire specialists and provide on-going training for PE teachers.(7)


Examples of Activities

One program that incorporates all three of these elements is Five for Life, a K-12, sequential PE curriculum that has been adopted in over 15 districts in Washington, and that is based on Washington’s Essential Academic Learning Requirements. Five for Life blends academic content, fitness related activities and motor skill development. Students set personal goals and understand the importance of being active and maintaining or improving the five components of fitness: heart and lung strength, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition.

In Lewis County, teachers who were trained to use the Five for Life curriculum had better confidence and knowledge about teaching nutrition and physical activity compared to teachers in schools who where the curriculum wasn’t used. Students in the schools that used Five for Life had better scores and knowledge and fitness tests than students in other schools.

At Olympic Middle School in Shelton, students receive between 136 and 204 minutes of PE per week-well in excess of state requirements. During PE, students spend half of the time participating in games and half in a cardiovascular workout. Students are able to earn “seals” through activities that focus on pride, academics, and wellness. After earning ten seals, students are invited to take part in a quarterly outing that include physical activity, such as visiting Wild Waves water park or roller skating. Students also can earn seals by participating in one of the many intramural activities offered at the school.