This post provides a summary of key messages from keynote and workshop speakers at the Alberta School Boards’ Association October 2012 Conference: Time for a Student Health Revolution, as well as some food for thought for parents.
I had the opportunity to share the key messages at a School Council* meeting last night. I carefully watched faces and body language to try to gauge audience reactions. As expected, parents’ reactions indicated a pretty high awareness around obesity rates, children’s physical activity levels, the increase in sedentary (i.e sitting) time, and the direct linkage between the consumption of sugar-added beverages and increased risk of obesity. I observed indications of surprise at just how much time our kids are spending in front of screens each day and I was surprised that no one in attendance knew what the Canadian Physical Activity Guideline is for adults between the ages of 18 and 64 (150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week, in blocks of at least 10 minutes at a time).
My summary of the conference key messages was a great lead-in to a discussion around some of the many student wellness initiatives already underway at the school:
- On the days students don’t have Phys Ed in the timetable, they take part in Daily Physical Activity (DPA) class. In past years, DPA classes were often organized by the students themselves. This school year, the classes are teacher organized and the activities are consistently more vigorous.
- Over the past few years, partly supported by parent fundraising, the school has acquired a number of exercise bikes, some treadmills, free weights and other equipment to support DPA classes and for teachers to use for their own exercise programs.
- Most recently, parents have funded the purchase of enough cross-country skis, poles and boots to allow up to 50 students to go out cross-country skiing at any one time. This winter sport can be done on the school / community hall grounds or a few blocks away in one of the city parks.
- Within the context of the Alberta program of studies, Phys Ed classes are increasingly focused on life-long fitness. Students have the opportunity to try a wide range of activities (karate, Zumba and yoga are some of the recent activities). This sampling approach is aimed at allowing every student to discover one or two activities they might want to take part in outside of the school setting and well beyond their school years.
- The theme for this year’s Peace Festival is Wellness. Students will have the opportunity to take part in various fitness activities, to try meditation, and learn about other wellness-related activities and programs.
- The new vending machine (which sells items listed as “Choose Most Often” and “Choose Sometimes” according to the Alberta Nutrition Guidelines for Children and Youth) is very popular with the students. In fact, the school is receiving more funds from this machine than came in from the previous, less healthy vending machine program.
- The Alberta program of studies for health is integrated into all subject areas. In addition, students have opportunities to forge connections with other members of the school community through the new family groupings program, house colours, cross-grade classes (particularly for electives) and more.
- All students receive a refresher on good digital citizenship each fall, and additional learning opportunities on this topic occur throughout the year.
- A number of elective classes relate to physical activity or social / spiritual wellness (such as athletics based and outdoor education-related electives and the “Me to We” elective).
Parents were quite interested in the idea that the topic for next spring’s parenting conference be something related to health and wellness. They also requested that the key presentation and discussion points be shared in the next issue of the school newsletter. There was also considerable interest in pulling together an overview of the many programs and initiatives related to student wellness to serve as a reference and to help highlight opportunities for further improvement.
As far as my person first steps towards improved wellness goes, I’ve made a few changes since attending the conference.
First and foremost, I’ve stopped eating potato chips. I know they’re my biggest weakness, especially when there’s dip to go along with. After more than two months of not eating potato chips, I still have to talk sternly to myself when someone else in the family is eating potato chips and there’s an open bag on the counter. My ongoing struggle against potato chip temptation has really driven home for me the fact that high fat, high salt, high sugar foods are addictive.
Second, I no longer sit in front of my computer most of each day. I stand in front of my computer! I found this change much easier to make. In fact, I now find that when I sit down for more than about 45 minutes, I start to feel a tingling down the back of my legs. I take care not to stand with my legs locked, and move about as I work on my computer. I started this change by elevating my computer screen and keyboard / mouse using wooden crates. After about 3 weeks of this somewhat unattractive fix, Mr. GeoK did some research and ordered me a Kangaroo Pro Junior standing desk unit (see photo below). It looks a lot better and provides the option to stand or sit at the same desk. Stay tuned for a detailed review of the Kangaroo Pro Junior from Ergo Desktop later this week.
In addition to these two major steps, I’m trying to be more mindful when eating. Is this a nutrition-dense choice? Or would this fall into the “Other” category on Canada’s Food Guide? Am I getting close to my (minimum) 5 servings of fruit / vegetables today? And this mindfulness naturally extends to the whole family, since I’m the primary cook.
An unexpected but welcome by-product of these changes? I’ve lost 7 pounds over the last two months, without upping my physical activity (although I do exceed the 150 minutes / week of moderate to vigorous physical activity guideline for adults – and have done so for years). Talk about a bonus!
As 2012 winds down and 2013 looms ever closer, it’s a good time to start thinking about my next steps. I’d like to implement a couple more incremental changes that will help keep me (and my family) on the road to comprehensive life-long wellness. Any suggestions?
* Our school community refers to the parent advisory council as the School Council.