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Four countries share practical ways to increase physical activity in schools, reducing musculoskeletal risks for future workers

The school system provides an ideal opportunity to establish active and healthy behaviours before future generations enter the workforce, reducing risks to their musculoskeletal health. This is illustrated by varied examples throughout Europe, including initiatives in Finland, Austria, Hungary and Germany, as detailed in the Better Schools by Promoting Musculoskeletal Health report. 

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Finland: Schools on the Move

The Finnish "Schools on the Move" programme aims to increase physical activity levels throughout the school day, with no disruption to learning. Quite the opposite in fact: integrating movement should improve learning outcomes, as well as students' health and wellbeing. 

The programme includes:

  • Integration of movement in lessons and breaks
  • After-school clubs
  • Events and promotions on the topic of physical activity
  • Active school commute

A research centre is responsible for the overall coordination of the project and provides schools with training and guidance towards implementation and evaluation. Students are also actively encouraged to provide input. 

Evaluation data continues to reveal encouraging results: the programme is now used in over 90% of Finnish comprehensive schools; and in participating schools, 77% of students took part in physical activities during the school day. 

Austria: Moving School

Originally, the aim of the initiative "Moving School Austria" was to counteract the increasing number of health concerns among students, and reduce the time spent sitting in schools. This evolved into a more holistic goal, whereby increasing physical activity will help to improve the overall educational quality of schools. 

Implementation in schools is centred on a cogwheel model, where action to improve in one area has a positive impact on the others: "school as a place of learning and living", "teaching and learning" and "management and organisation". 

Teacher training in active lessons and active breaks is central to the project, with the initiative website providing a wide range of resources to support movement-oriented planning. Ideas include 'letter run' and 'hiking arithmetic'. Students also learn to use their break for exercise and a healthy snack. 

"Moving School Austria" has widespread uptake across the country and its importance has been recognised in educational policy. Support and input from the occupational safety and health (OSH) sector has also played a vital role. 

Hungary: Daily Physical Education

Hungary is (so far) the only European country where it is a legal requirement for students to receive a daily PE class. This forms part of a wider health promotion initiative, which also sees schools teaching about nutrition and promoting the mental health of students. 

PE classes should contain as much movement as possible, as well as meet specific criteria set in national educational guidelines, which includes:

  • Incorporating exercises on posture training and body strengthening
  • Accounting for age-related strength of the spine and joints in the selection and execution of exercises
  • Paving the way for lifelong enjoyment of sport

A national school fitness test is used to test the strength, endurance, flexibility and body composition of every student from year five onwards. Schools are provided with the necessary tools to collect and analyse the data.

This measure could only succeed thanks to political willpower, the persistence of the public health sector and an overarching cooperation between all relevant policy areas. 

Germany: "Safety and health in physical education" initiative

High incidence of sport-related accidents in German schools prompted the "Safety and health in physical education" initiative. This aims to ensure awareness and knowledge of safety and health are established across all school levels, particularly among those responsible for teaching PE, creating a sustainable culture of prevention

At national level, research projects, safety and health handouts, specialist conferences and symposia complement activities at school level, such as teacher training and legal and curricular guidelines for schools. 

A 15-year duration has been set for the project, to ensure meaningful systemic change is achieved. It is hoped that there should be a significant decrease in both minor and severe sporting accidents in schools as a result. Furthermore, this is the first long-term cooperation between the education and OSH sectors in Germany, potentially paving the way for more sustainable prevention and health promotion, going above and beyond PE in schools. 

If MSDs in children and young people can be prevented, starting with good habits established in schools, this will contribute to decreasing their prevalence among future wokers, regardless of their age. 

You can find further information on these best practice examples in the Better Schools by Promoting Musculoskeletal Health report. Additional resources are also available in the Future Generations Priority Area

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