Maintenance of Students’ Physical Activity During the Holidays

girl jumping in winter cloths Holidays tend to be synonymous with extra calories and decreased physical activity. People may consume more because of food served at holiday parties or given as gifts, possibly due to stress, be it financial or relational, or because many of us give ourselves “permission” to check out of our regular healthy eating strategies.  Additionally, traveling, entertaining, and social gatherings during this time may make it more difficult to maintain regular physical activity. Youth are affected by unhealthy holiday patterns, as well. They may be exposed to more eating opportunities in school during the holidays, due to holiday parties or fundraisers. Students may also have decreased physical activity opportunities when their families’ travel and social events take precedence, or due to school breaks that decrease their participation in physical education classes. Therefore, the holiday season requires extra attention to how we can help students fit in as much physical activity as possible during such a busy time.  Inclusion of physical activity helps not only in the immediate, but may help shape the way they view holidays into adulthood.

Here are some specific holiday ideas for helping to incorporate more physical activity in schools:

  • Add small bouts of physical activity into learning objectives. For instance:
    • Have a mobile spelling lesson, where students move around the classroom to complete activities at various stations.
    • Include repetitions of simple exercises (e.g., sit-ups, jumping jacks, toe touches) in math lessons.
  • Encourage a classroom discussion about how students can fit in physical activity while they are away from school PE classes, while traveling with their families, etc. Ask how they think they can encourage their families to participate in physical activity together.
  • Ask parent volunteers to visit the classroom to lead short activity breaks during the day/week.
  • Have cafeteria staff/aids encourage short activities for kids to do while waiting in the lunch line.
    • These may include simple stretches or jumping jacks that students can do while standing up.
  • Have a competition between classrooms for kids to earn points when they do exercises.

Although it can be difficult to maintain physical activity during the holidays, schools play an important role in promoting activity among youth.  Recognizing some possible barriers to physical activity and including some of the above ideas may help students maintain healthy habits during the holidays. 


Lara Latimer, PhD, Cornell Food and Brand Lab 


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