Scanlan Center for School Mental Health
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Walk the Walk: Tips for Teachers to Integrate More Physical Activity Into Their Day

Kat Krtnick Wilson
Kat Krtnick Wilson
written by

Kat Krtnick Wilson, MBA

Educator Wellness

February is Active Classrooms Month, an annual observance where educators across the country are encouraged to integrate more movement into the classroom and demonstrate the positive impact it has on students.

We all know that “active kids learn better.” Physical activity is positively associated with academic achievement, attention, self-esteem, and cognition. In one recent Active Schools Minnesota study, students who participated in 60 minutes of school-based physical activity showed 27% increased performance in math and 24% in reading.  

Even more, physical activity has been identified as a promising intervention to improve mental health outcomes in students, reducing psychological stress and enhancing mood, emotional regulation, and focus.

This doesn’t just apply to our students, though. Active educators also do better. The mind-body connection made during physical activity boosts brain function, improves sleep quality, reduces the risk of depression, anxiety, chronic disease, and dementia, and reenergizes us!

Listen to the Creating Habits to Support Your Physical and Mental Health episode of the Educator Wellness Podcast to learn more about the connection between physical and brain health.

The school day is already overwhelming. How can I fit my own physical activity in?

Teachers, school counselors, paraeducators, and other school staff encounter unique scheduling challenges compared to a corporate 9-5 worker. Mornings are early and rushed. Breaks are minimal. The end-of-day exhaustion hits hard. When will you have time to move more?

Contrary to the gravity-defying, gladiator-type workouts or intense 2-hour training regimens popularized on social media, you don’t need to get fancy, dedicate long hours, or perform Mission Impossible stunts to benefit from physical activity.

This blog is your assurance that just a little bit of movement makes a big difference.

Below are 5 easy ways to add more movement into your workday and in turn, inspire your students to also move more:

#1 All the Small Things: Get your fidget on. Walk it out. Stand up.

As educators, we love a good acronym. But this one takes the cake. If you can only implement one of these tips in your day, this is it. Get NEAT.

NEAT stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis, better understood as unstructured physical activity, or any activities beyond sleeping, eating, and “intentional exercise.”

NEAT includes daily motions and micro-movements such as standing, walking, using the stairs, doing laundry, and shoveling snow.

Studies show that NEAT can have a big impact on our health and well-being, including optimizing how our bodies expend energy and can even help achieve weight loss. And even among those who do exercise regularly, NEAT usually plays a bigger role in calorie burning than working out.

The National Academy for Sports Medicine shows that a when 145 lb. individual stood instead of sat throughout a workday, they burned an extra 18,000 calories (~5 lbs.) over 250 workdays.

An easy addition to your NEAT repertoire is to get your fidget on.

Contrary to the advice “sit still” we often received as kids, fidgeting is good for us! According to Psychology Today, fidgeting is thought to be a method of self-regulation that can calm or energize us.

But it also has physical health benefits. Tapping your toes or bouncing your legs will increase blood flow and combat some consequences of sedentariness.

A potential upgrade to fidgeting could be soleus push-ups (or a seated calf raise). A recent study by the University of Houston’s Metabolic Innovations Lab, suggests that a seated calf raise, when performed correctly, revs up your metabolism for hours.

Want to know how to perfect a perfect soleus push-up?

What does this mean for educators? Simple, small movements matter. Park a little farther away from the school door. Pace the classroom. March in place. Shift your weight from side to side. Stand while you are working on lesson plans or grading. Challenge a colleague to a daily steps goal.

And, don’t forget to encourage your students to wiggle, jiggle and squirm too – let them in on the fidgeting fun!

#2 Making Moves: Optimize your break.

Before you tackle grading or lesson planning, refresh and recharge with a short 5 or 10-minute movement circuit. Many yoga, stretching, balance, mobility, or strength training options don’t require any equipment or a lot of space.

Try the following bodyweight strength circuit:

“EduFit” Bodyweight Circuit (Repeat 3-5 times)

For added pizazz and muscle activation, try adding these miniband exercises into your routine.

“Miniband” Circuit (Repeat 3-5 times)

#3 Students: Your automatic accountability partner.

Students love to hear about our lives outside of the classroom. So, why not build connections, model well-being practices, and get an accountability partner all at the same time?

Whatever type of exercise you enjoy or wellness routine you have, share them with your students. Talk about your morning workout or your post-school day plans to move your body with your class. Did you do a 30-minute Peloton bootcamp with Jess Sims this morning? Hit an Orangetheory Fitness class with your bestie over the weekend? Are you planning to do a virtual yoga class in the evening or hit the pavement for a walk or jog after the school day? Do you play a recreation hockey or pickleball league? Or maybe you are training for a 5K or RAGBRAI?

Students genuinely enjoy learning personal details about our lives, so make the most of their natural curiosity, and use this as accountability for yourself. And don’t be surprised if the first question they ask the next morning is: “Hey, Ms. Wilson, how was your barre class last night?”

According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should engage in 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiorespiratory exercise, 75-100 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise, OR a combination of both a week. The weekly recommendation for muscle-strengthening activities is 2 or more days per week with exercises for all the major muscle groups. Flexibility and neuromotor exercises (balance, agility, coordination) are also recommended at least twice per week.

#4 Simon Says: If you lead. Students will follow.

Additionally, when you incorporate physical activity or brain boosters into your classroom routine, do the activity with your students.

Whether it is a GoNoodle dance, integrating walking into lessons (walk and share or try The Walking Classroom); or pausing for yoga or stretching poses (Challenge for Change and Breathe for Change have some amazing resources!), do it with them!

Looking to “stretch” yourself this year? Try jumping into a Physical Education class with your students. As a classroom teacher, this time is often sacred for prep, eating lunch, or using the bathroom. But talk with the Physical Education teacher and see where you can pencil in one day a semester to join your students.

#5 It’s How We Roll: Make movement part of your classroom routine.

Don’t just sprinkle physical activity into the school day now and then; bake it into your everyday classroom routine so it becomes habit for your students. In addition to physical education class or recess, what parts of their day can they always expect to move?

If nothing else, try to incorporate more standing into the classroom. You might not have standing desks or tables, but you could plan “standing” or “rotating” small group discussion time. A simple idea is inviting students to stand and stretch their legs during a lecture or lesson. Or can you have a designated “standing area” in the back of your room?

Another way to inspire movement is by pumping up the jam. Dr. Andrew Huberman, neuroscientist and professor at the Stanford School of Medicine in The Huberman Lab podcast confirmed: “When we listen to music, we are more likely to move our body.” Huberman also said that when we listen to music with a fast cadence (140-150 BPM+), it creates a heightened state of motivation for the body to move.

Another perk of tunes? Listening to music 10-15 minutes before engaging in an activity when you need intense focus is one of the best ways to get motivated for that work. It can increase both our and our students’ ability to focus, retain information, and learn new material. Double win!

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel or create anything from scratch. There are oodles of student-focused physical activity resources and programs – many of them free – for educators to use in the classroom. Here are a handful to check out: 

While there are many tips in this post, choose just one to focus on. Movement should be joyful, so only choose what makes you happy. Pay attention to how small changes add up in big ways to your overall mental health, well-being, and longevity.

If you have other physical activity ideas or best practices to share with your fellow educators, email them to

Kat Krtnick Wilson, Communications and Strategic Initiatives Manager at the Scanlan Center for School Mental Health, is an Orangetheory Fitness coach and American Council of Exercise (ACE) Group Fitness Instructor.