Sharpen the Wellness Policy in your School

Physical Education/Physical Activity

Wellness policies are required to identify goals for physical activity. Each district has the opportunity to choose its own goals to meet this requirement. While there are many ways that school districts can achieve this policy requirement, quality physical education is a good place to start. Physical education and physical activity both contribute to the development of healthy, active children, but they are not identical. Ideally, both will be offered to students.

Physical education programs offer physical activity to children, teach them the skills and knowledge needed to establish and sustain an active lifestyle, and help them to understand the benefits of being active.

Physical activity is bodily movement of any type and may include recreational, fitness, and sport activities. Physical activity is part of a physical education class, but it can also be incorporated into other academic subject areas, including recess, and before and after school physical activity programs, and other extra-curricular activities.

Quality Physical Education

According to the CDC, children and adolescents should get 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day. PE teaches age appropriate skills and knowledge that encourage students to be physically active for a lifetime.

The following tools are useful in understanding Massachusetts requirements for PE and for assessing policies and programs related to PE. These will help you to identify strengths and weaknesses and identify focus areas and next steps:

  1. Massachusetts General Law: Physical education


    Chapter 71: Section 3. Physical education

    Section 3. Physical education shall be taught as a required subject in all grades for all students in the public schools for the purpose of promoting the physical well-being of such students. Instruction in physical education may include calisthenics, gymnastics and military drill; but no pupil shall be required to take part in any military exercise if his parent or guardian is of any religious denomination conscientiously opposed to bearing arms, or is himself so opposed, and the school committee is so notified in writing; and no pupil shall be required to take part in physical education exercises if a licensed physician certifies in writing that in his opinion such physical education exercises would be injurious to the pupil.

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  2. Comprehensive Health Curriculum Framework: MA Standards for physical education
  3. Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program Policy Continuum
  4. School Health Index: Module 3

Policy Considerations: Schools will require daily physical education for students in kindergarten through grade 12 (150 minutes per week for elementary schools and 225 minutes per week for secondary schools).


Recess gives students the chance to have unstructured physical activity and to practice what they learn in physical education class. It is also fun! All students should be encouraged to be active and recess should not be restricted as a form of punishment. Many schools are also experimenting with offering recess before lunch.

Policy Considerations: Schools will incorporate at least 20 minutes of recess per day in addition to physical education classes.

Physical Activity Breaks

To energize students and maintain classroom behavior, try building bursts of activity into classroom lessons.

Policy Considerations: Teachers are encouraged to provide short physical activity breaks intended to increase concentration and application.


Intramural Sports and Other Extracurricular Programs

Offer physical activity programs before, during or after school hours to provide students with safe opportunities to move more. Offer choices such as walking, running, hiking, swimming, tennis, dancing, and bicycling. Encourage students of all skill levels an equal chance to participate.

Other policy ideas to promote physical activity

Adapted from: CDC's Factsheet on Youth Physical Activity

For more resources on incorporating Physical Activity into the school day, visit our Physical Activity page in Tools and Ideas.