Physical activity


Physical activity is important for physical and mental health and can contribute to better academic and cognitive performance (1) and stress reduction. Other related terms are 'physical education' and 'sports'.

Physical inactivity helps reducing overweight and obesity. Children and adolescents who are overweight or obese are more likely to become overweight adults (2). Being physically active during childhood can contribute to childhood obesity prevention as well as a healthy adult weight.


The school environment is a key setting to address physical activity, because students spend a large part of their day in school. Also, physical activity in combination with healthy eating promotes learning(2). Encouraging sports and physical activity in school can also improve the school climate for the entire school community, reduce school dropout and can improve school and work performance (3).

Important strategies for physical activity in schools include (2):

  • At least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorously-intense daily physical activity
  • At least three times per week: Vigorous-intensity activities, that strengthen muscle and bone

What makes a programme on physical activity in school effective?

Evidence on physical activity suggests that (factsheet 2):

  • physical activity initiatives in schools are most effective if they adopt a whole school approach; e.g. the development of skills, suitable physical environment, supportive policies to enable all students to participate;
  • students gain more benefit from physical activity if they have opportunities to be active at regular times during the school day;
  • if students collaborate with school staff in deciding the type of physical activity to be undertaken, they will be more committed to participation.
Spotlight - physical activity in schools publications

Physical activity behaviour of adolescents in schools

The doctoral thesis has been written about perspectives of school community members on encouraging healthy eating and physical activity in the school environment and how this information can be used to strengthen school-based overweight and obesity prevention programmes. Read more about this research on physical activity in schools

HEPS Schoolkit

The HEPS Schoolkit is a tool that helps you to develop a (national) school policy on promoting healthy eating and physical activity in schools to prevent and treat childhood obesity. Based on the health promoting school approach. An initiative from the Schools for Health in Europe (SHE) network. Read more about the HEPS Schoolkit



Related links


News: Physical activity

8th WHO European Childhood Obesity Surveilance Initiative meeting

The 8th COSI meeting took place from 18-20 May, 2015 in Dubrovnik, Croatia. The aim of the meeting was to share the latest results from the third collection round, as well as to discuss lessons leared, successes, challenges and the expansion of the number of countries participating in the European Childhood Obesity Surveilance Initiative. Read more about the 8th WHO European Childhood Obesity Surveilance Initiative meeting

ToyBox study workshop - Childhood obesity prevention

The report "Obesity prevention in children in pre-school years: Policies and evidence” brings together findings from the EU-funded ToyBox project and a high-level workshop on the future of research in the field of childhood obesity, organised on 11 April 2014. Read more about the report: Obesity prevention in children in pre-school years