How to Use Physical Activity to Reduce Stress Ahead of SATs

7 Exercises to Use in Classroom Today

How to Use Physical Activity to Reduce Stress Ahead of SATs

In our previous post, we looked at the evidence supporting the positive effects of incorporating physical activity, PE and games into SATs preparation for year 6 students. Regular bouts of moderate to vigorous exercise spread over the school day can reduce stress and boost learning. In this post, we take a look at the best types of PE and games exercises to incorporate into the day and how to bring physical activity into the classroom.

Moderate to vigorous physical activities get the body moving and the heart pumping. Running, dancing, skipping, playing tag and taking part in sports such as football or basketball are all good examples. The benefits of moderate to vigorous exercise can be achieved in the classroom without any need for equipment by simply incorporating short bursts of just 2–3 minutes of aerobic activity at regular intervals across the school day.

One Goal offer a 1-day programme designed to demonstrate the wide range of physical activities that can be performed in a classroom environment and provide instruction for teaching staff on how to implement them safely and effectively. Exercises include:

Calm Breathing

These techniques can help children to lower feelings of anxiety through learning how to stay in control of their breathing.

  • Take a slow deep breath in through the nose for around 4 or 5 seconds – imagine the breath is inflating a balloon in the belly
  • Hold for 2 seconds and then slowly breathe out through the mouth – imagine the balloon in the belly deflating
  • Pause for 2 seconds and the repeat the exercise to complete up to 10 breaths.

Hand to Knee Crossovers

This exercise energizes both the body and the brain. The cross-lateral movement promotes right and left brain communication which can boost learning. The moderate to vigorous level of intensity triggers a hormone release that can alleviate stress.

  • Stand tall with feet placed hip-width apart and arms by sides
  • Raise the left knee and simultaneously bring the right hand across the body to meet it
  • Return to the starting position
  • Raise the right knee and simultaneously bring the left hand across the body to meet it
  • Return to the start position and then continue to repeat the movements

Increasing the speed of the movements increases the level of intensity. The marching movement can be elevated to a jog, and the hand to knee crossover can be advanced to an elbow to knee crossover.

PE in classroom

No Rope Skipping

This exercise not only gives the cardiovascular system a workout, it provides a fun opportunity to be creative in movement.

  • Stand tall with feet together, holding imaginary skipping rope handles in each hand
  • Begin skipping – using the type of wrist action required to turn the imaginary skipping rope – and get creative with foot movements e.g. double footed, one-legged hop, scissor split, crossing ankles, can-can kick, turning on the spot etc.

Increasing the speed of the movements and/or the height of the knee lifts or jumps required increases the level of intensity, but there are no limits on imagination.

Jumping Jacks

This exercise is a PE classic and one that most adults and children already know. The basic movements can be made more fun by adding a hand clap over the head as the arms are raised and a hand clap behind the back as the arms are lowered.

  • Stand tall with feet together and arms by sides
  • Jump both feet outwards into a wide stance and simultaneously raise both arms overhead
  • Jump both feet inwards and lower the arms simultaneously to return to the starting position
  • Repeat the movements

Increasing the speed of the movements increases the level of intensity. An element of fun can be added by instructing the students to turn to the left or the right with each jumping jack. The intensity can be taken up a notch by introducing star jumps.

Jog on the Spot

Another PE classic is to jog on the spot, but there’s lots of fun to be had with this simple exercise by adding short 10 second bursts of increased intensity at random intervals. Begin with an easy jog on the spot and then add any of the following at random:  

  • 10 seconds of lifting the knees as high as possible in the jog
  • or 10 seconds of kicking up heels to meet bottom in the jog
  • 10 seconds of moving feet as fast as possible in the jog
  • 10 seconds of ‘sprinting’ with the arms only
  • or another idea: 10 seconds of jogging as if on the moon or in slow motion

Frog Jumps

This exercise really gets the heart pumping and the speed of the movements will determine the intensity.

  • Stand with feet placed slightly wider apart than hips
  • Squat down to touch the floor between the feet
  • Spring up in a frog-like jump, returning to the starting stance on landing
  • Repeat the movements

1 2 3 Circuit

The number of repetitions or the time spent on each exercise can be varied to suit different levels of ability or fitness, but an effective way to keep all children engaged and giving their best effort is to combine a selection of exercises into a mini desk-side circuit.

Each exercise included in the circuit is given a number. On hearing a number called out, the students perform the corresponding exercise. Another number is then called and the students switch straight into performing the corresponding exercise. The numbers called and the time spent performing each exercise can be totally random, adding to the fun.

The Benefits

Short bursts of vigorous physical activity in the classroom can help to reduce SATs preparation stress in year 6 students and elevate the mood and concentration levels of all students across the school.

Classroom-based activities make it possible to increase the daily activity levels of all students, promoting the idea that physical activity can take place anywhere and at any time, not just in designated PE and games sessions. And, exercising in the classroom makes exercise spontaneous – there’s no need to book time in the school hall, there’s no need to locate equipment, and teachers can help students to perform at their best in all aspects of their school day by initiating an energising body and brain “wake up” whenever moods are flagging.  


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